Leavitt Reservoir construction begins

Nathan Oster

From a mobile trailer parked along Bear Creek Road that’s connected to the outside world with satellite technology, Josh Barratta is perfectly positioned to monitor and report on the production of aggregate and the construction of a coffer dam that represent the first phase of the Leavitt Reservoir expansion project.
“It’s going well so far — just a little snow but nothing we can’t handle,” said Barratta, the senior project engineer for Big Sky Civil Contractors and Montana Civil Contractors. “We’re going to take advantage of all the nice weather days before winter.
“If the sun’s shining and the clay isn’t slippery and wet, we’re going to be out there.”
Big Sky Civil and Montana Civil are separate companies but have joined forces on this project, having landed two of the three contracts awarded so far by the Shell Valley Watershed Improvement District.  Contract A, for which they are being paid $36.4 million, involves the construction of the dam, outlet works, wetland mitigation area and recreation facilities while Contract D, which will pay them $17.9 million, is to produce aggregate materials from the terrace borrow areas.  
What was once the Leavitt Reservoir is no more; the old dam was breached and the reservoir drained a couple of years ago in anticipation of the reconstruction commencing.  That didn’t happen as early as hoped, but it’s underway now.
Barratta said Fisher Sand & Gravel, a subcontractor, has an approximately five-person crew producing the different types of aggregate that will be needed in the coming years. “The dam is made up of multiple layers of material with different characteristics and sizes and they’re also producing gravel to keep the roads maintained,” he said.
When it’s finished, the dam will rise approximately 60 feet higher than the old one, which was 30 feet.
Big Sky Montana and Montana Civil have an approximately five-man crew of their own building the 15-foot-tall coffer dam that will store water for use in dust suppression and the construction of the dam, and also prevent it from reaching the primary construction area during periods of high water.
Upstream of the existing dam, the coffer dam “will be about 15 feet tall and look a lot like a typical embankment a rancher might put in for a stock pond,” said Kevin Mininger of RJH Consulting, the engineering firm that’s been working with the SVWID.
The construction work began in early October, he said.   
Mininger echoed Barratta in saying the earthwork will proceed as long as weather permits before shutting down for the winter.   The aggregate production is expected to continue through the winter, with Fisher’s by then two- to three-man crew pausing only on the coldest of days.
“Come spring, they’ll have a much larger crew,” said Mininger.
As for $8.6 million Contract B, which is the other one that’s been awarded by SVWID, Mininger said Mountain View Building of Sheridan “has started moving equipment over” and “getting staged” for the construction of the supply pipeline and associated structures, which it expects to begin after the new year.  
In total, Contracts A, B and D total $62.9 million.
The SVWID has yet to award Contract C for the construction of the transfer pipeline and associated structures. Originally estimated to cost between $12 million and $14 million, the lowest bid that the SVWID received came in at $14.6 million.  Mountain View Building submitted it.
Last spring, the Wyoming Legislature approved a funding package of approximately $78 million, of which 98% would be paid by the state.
Mininger said the SVWID is seeking about $10.8 million more. On Wednesday, a couple board members traveled to Casper for a meeting with the Legislature’s Select Water Committee, which ended up recommending the appropriation.
Mininger said the delay in the awarding of Contract C isn’t expected to effect the overall timeline.
“It may have started this winter, but with pipe contractors, it takes several months to build the pipe and get it on site,” he said. “So even if we don’t award that contract until next spring after the legislative session, I’m still optimistic it won’t delay construction. We’ll still be able to have the initial filling of the reservoir in the spring of 2026 and start supplying the first irrigation water from later in 2026.”