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The Imperial Beach City Council voted Wednesday night, June 5, to replace a failing sewer line and to move forward on paving unpaved alleys.

The repair to the sewer line that runs under Highway 75 from Bernardo Shores to Rainbow Street took years to get to the council. And even with the council's unanimous approval for the construction contract, it will be months more before the work begins.

"It took three months of going back and forth to get the permit from Caltrans," public works director Hank Levien explained.

The city first learned the pipe that brings Bernardo Shores waste toward the city's main sewage line was failing in a 2010 camera investigation. The camera wasn't able to get all the way across, Levien said.

"It is cast iron that has been there God knows how long and it's failing," he explained. "If we don't get it fixed promptly, I fear it will fail and collapse and then it will be extremely difficult to get waste across the 75 from Bernardo Shores."

The city got two bids on the work — $600,400 and $717,000. But a few phone calls revealed that both bidders planned to use the same subcontractor to do the micro tunneling. But both bids came in at least 65 percent higher than what the city had budgeted for.

"Given the huge difference in the bids, I'm wondering if we have the right city engineer," councilmember Edward Spriggs said. "When you see bids that much higher, it's a lot of money and a lot of consequences for budgeting."

Levien brushed off the criticism and pushed for contract approval, which he won. He also presented the plan to pave 14 now-unpaved alleys in central I.B., which will cost about $1.2 million to do. The project was designed in 2006 and budgeted for with money from the now-defunct redevelopment agency.

Councilman Brian P. Bilbray disclosed that his family owns property on one of the unpaved alleys.

To go forward now, the city has to redesign the alleys, since the most recent Regional Stormwater Management permit requires that large areas of new pavement have drainage and filtering plans that keep storm water from running to the street and, ultimately, the ocean. The city approved the redesign and authorized moving forward on the project after a long fight over which fund the money should come from.

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