On April 17, 2013, the fertilizer plant in West, Texas tragically caught fire and exploded as firefighters were attempting to douse the flames. The explosion caused 15 deaths, 300 serious injuries, and over $200 million in damages.
Following the explosion, the West Fire Department faced a total water system shutdown. West’s primary water source, a Trinity Aquifer groundwater well, was out of service for maintenance. West’s emergency water supply, an 18-mile long, 12-inch diameter pipeline from the City of Waco, could not keep up with the demand needed to extinguish the flames. As if conditions could not get any worse, the firefighters and Public Works crews soon discovered that the explosion had destroyed the 150,000 gallon Ground Storage Tank (GST) and Booster Pump Station at Well No. 4.
With the 150,000 gallon GST totally destroyed, Well No. 6 fatefully out of service, and the pipeline from Waco inadequate to supply fire flows, the exhausted firefighters turned their attention to protecting the health and safety of the remaining 2,800 residents.
The extent of the devastation in West was not fully realized until the next day. 142 homes were completely destroyed; the nursing home was rubble; the high school and middle school damaged beyond repair. Many streets were severely fractured and a 250,000 gallon GST was badly damaged. Additionally, a 150,000 gallon GST as well as one Booster Pump Station were both total losses. Approximately one-fourth of the underground water distribution system was compromised or destroyed by the tremors resulting from the explosion. In less than 24 hours, West had gone from a thriving, hardworking, charming Czech community to a ravaged disaster zone plagued with fear, grief, and uncertainty.
On the morning of April 19, 2013, C.J. Gillespie, Public Works Director, called Jed Walker to discuss the perils of the water system and West’s inability to supply drinking water to approximately two-thirds of its residents. That night, Jed and Walker Partners’ Senior Manager John Winkler began strategizing on how best to finance reconstruction of West’s water system and thoroughfares. The plan devised that night was based upon getting an Appropriations Bill passed in the State Legislature to fund the water and street improvements necessary to make West whole again. The Legislature had only one week remaining in the 2013 Session, so time was of the essence!
Monday morning, the 21st of April, Walker Partners deployed a Team of experts to West to formulate a plan on how to restore water service to as much of the City as possible, and assess the severity and degree of devastation that the infrastructure sustained from the blast. Simultaneously, Jed Walker and Tommy Muska, Mayor of West, headed to Austin to meet with Representative Kyle Kacal, State Senator Bryan Birdwell, and Governor Rick Perry. By the week’s end, House Bill 1025 was drafted appropriating $10 million to West to rebuild the damaged infrastructure. In May of 2013, House Bill 1025 was passed, ratified, and consequently signed into law on June 14, 2013. Walker Partners worked shoulder to shoulder with FEMA officials, the Texas Department of Emergency Management (TDEM), and the Texas State Congress to plan, design, and implement a long-term, sustainable infrastructure solution that would provide West with a reliable water system and a safe, sustainable roadway system.
Walker Partners’ implementation tactics included a three-phased approach. Phase One included the repair and rehabilitation of the Ground Storage Tank, Pump Station, Electrical System, and Well at Water Plant No. 6. Phase One construction began on May 30, 2014 and was 100% complete by July 29, 2014 – on time and under budget.
Phase Two consists of the overhaul of the streets, water distribution system, and wastewater collection system in the designated “Disaster Zone” area in West. This Project is currently under construction. The low bidder was approximately $1 million under budget and this phase is scheduled to be completed in May of 2016.
Phase Three is the Water Plant No. 7 Storage Tank. This Project will consist of a 350 gallon-per-minute Trinity Aquifer water well, a 250,000 gallon GST (or a 150,000 gallon Elevated Storage Tank), and a 1,000 gallon-per-minute pump station. Walker Partners and the City of West have already secured and closed on a new 2.9 acre tract of land for Plant No. 7 and the FEMA environmental review is currently underway to “clear” the site for construction. This Project will be designed, procured, and constructed in accordance with FEMA’s guidelines and procedures. Walker Partners is very experienced in working with FEMA in West and we anticipate that this Project will be executed methodically and expeditiously.
On the night of the explosion, Walker Partners recognized that our friends in West needed us at a desperate time. We know West, and we knew that if the State did not appropriate the funds necessary to rebuild in 2013, the next opportunity for funding would not occur until the Legislature reconvened in another two years. We deployed our efforts swiftly and efficiently to ensure that West was poised for prosperity after the tragedy.
Within five working days, Walker Partners assessed the destruction, prepared schematic plans, cost estimates, and budgets for the entire capital reconstruction program. The plans and estimates have been the basis for the State’s appropriation and all of FEMA’s funding. To date, these budgets have proven to be very accurate, which has allowed West to realize all the benefits of the Projects as they were originally envisioned.
Walker Partners’ humble leadership and selfless service, coupled with West’s tenacity and self-reliance, has proven to be a winning combination throughout this hardship. Our mutual trust and respect will guide us through the final phases of redevelopment while the citizens of West rebuild their homes, lives, and outlook for the future.
The City of West has spent the last seven years rebuilding after a tragic fertilizer plant explosion. They not only faced the grief of lives lost, serious injuries, and damages to schools and businesses, but they also had to quickly repair their water system that suffered major damages in the explosion. As their partner, we helped secure the needed funding and formulated a plan to quickly rebuild their infrastructure.
completion date: 2018
location: West, Tx