What is a PER and Why Prepare One?
By Stephanie Seymanski, PE – The Montana State Legislature wrapped up their 2021 session thereby replenishing planning grant funding for preparing Preliminary Engineering Reports (PER). So what does this mean for municipal officials in Montana’s cities and towns and what is a PER? If you’re new to this funding process, here is some basic information on PERs and how they are prepared.
What is a PER?
A PER evaluates the condition, capacity, and function of a water, sewer, storm, or irrigation facility. Typically, a PER focuses on an existing facility, but may also evaluate a new facility. The PER also provides a source of information on the facility to staff, public officials, and funders.
A PER is an invaluable planning tool because it evaluates facility infrastructure providing highly useful information, recommended alternatives and projects, project budgets, project schedules, and recommended funding scenarios. These scenarios pave the way for future construction projects to address problems that have negative impacts on a community’s health, safety, and resources.
Ultimately, the PER is used as the basis for preparing construction grant applications to obtain funding to help build the construction project.
How are PERs prepared in Montana?
PERs are prepared by an engineer hired through a selection process meeting state and funding agency requirements. PERs generally follow the outline provided in the Uniform Application for Montana Public Facilities Projects. The Uniform Application is a common PER format and application that is acceptable to most funding agencies in Montana.
Accordingly, the PER will:
- Examine the past, present, and future condition/situation of the facility.
- Identify issues or potential issues in the facility.
- Evaluate potential growth and population trends, wastewater flows, or water demands.
- Present the financial status of the facility.
- Analyze the need for a project or projects.
- Evaluate project alternatives and recommend a selected alternative.
- Present project cost estimates.
- Identify environmental resources and any potential impacts to these resources.
- Engage the community in documented public hearings.
- Require extensive coordination with the project owner’s staff.
- Recommend a course of action and schedule for completing a given project and any future projects.
How long does it take to develop a PER and how much do I need to be involved in the process?
Ideally, a reasonable timeframe for completing a PER is nine to twelve months. This schedule allows for completing two required public hearings, as well as contacting environmental agencies. These agencies must review and comment on the proposed project for preparation of an environmental checklist. After the PER is completed, grant writing occurs to prepare the construction grant application and submit in time for the given deadline.
Communities should expect to be extensively involved in the information gathering phase of completing a PER. Information required from communities includes any documentation on the given facility including record drawings, maps, water demands, wastewater flows, inspection records, user rates, and financial data. The community should also plan on providing general guidance and direction to the engineer completing the PER. Input and feedback at public hearings from residents, businesses, and the mayor/chair and council/board is very important.
Can the information in the PER be used in the final design?
The recommended alternative and project presented in the PER will ultimately set the stage for the design of future facility improvements. The PER will develop the scope of the project, opinion of probable construction cost, schedule, overall project budget, and recommend a funding strategy, but does not include design of the project. The details of the project will be further developed when the engineer is under contract for the final design of the project.
What do I need to know about PERs and planning grants in Montana?
There are several sources of planning grants in Montana to fund preparation of a PER. The Renewable Resources Grant and Loan (RRGL) program typically has two funding cycles following a legislative session. The Montana Coal Endowment Program (MCEP, formerly TSEP) also has a planning grant cycle that opens after the legislative session with grant awards typically made on a first-come, first-serve basis. CDBG will often have an annual spring and fall planning grant funding cycle. And USDA Rural Development also has planning grant funding available for smaller communities.
For additional information on planning grants, see our article, “The What, Where, and How of Public Facility Planning Grants.”
Stephanie Seymanski, PE is a Senior Civil Engineer with the Water-Wastewater Group in the Morrison-Maierle Billings office.
Technical review of this article provided by Jeff Cicon, PE.