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Oak Harbor mayor looks to drop sewer treatment plant engineers

By JESSIE STENSLAND
Whidbey News-Times Co-editor
October 28, 2012 · Updated 6:29 AM
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The Oak Harbor mayor is looking to drop the engineering company hired to help build a sewage treatment plant, citing concerns about the quality and cost of their work.

In a recent interview, Mayor Scott Dudley noted that city staff members had preliminarily scheduled at a City Council meeting in December the approval of a new contract with the firm, Carollo Engineering, for design work on the treatment plant.

But instead of just handing the multi-million dollar contract to the company, Dudley said he plans to ask council members to advertise for new firms.

“We’re going to make sure it’s not just assumed that they will get the job,” he said.

Dudley explained that’s he’s looking for every possible way to lower the estimated $93.5 million cost of the sewer treatment plant and changing the engineering company may help.

Dudley said he’s very frustrated with the process by which firms are chosen to do design and other preliminary work on construction projects. Under law, the city can only consider qualifications, but cannot negotiate or even discuss with the company how much the work will cost.

“They just tell us how much they are going to charge us and there’s nothing we can do,” he said. “It continues to eat at me and rub me the wrong way.”

Larry Cort, the interim city administrator, confirmed that the state law applies to a whole range of contracts.

“It frustrates us and seems very unusual to people in the private sector,” he said. “It’s something the public doesn’t understand.”

Cort said, however, that the city staff could do homework and compare how much the firms they are considering have charged other jurisdictions for similar work in the past.

Dudley said he is “concerned” that the facilities plan that Carollo is working on has cost the city $1.2 million so far. The purpose of the plan was to choose the site for the treatment plant and the type of sewage treatment technology.

Dudley said he was a city councilman when Carollo was hired and that he voted against the facilities plan contract.

Dudley admits that he doesn’t feel Carollo has done a very good job, despite the high cost. He points out that the company, working with city staff, narrowed down the potential sites to five after more than a year of work. But then, very late in the game, they added a site known as “Crescent Harbor North.”

“They promised us that it would be the last site that would need to be added,” Dudley said. “But then lo and behold, we discover the Freund property, which has the potential of being a very good site and saving the city a lot of money.”

The Freund property is a six-acre site across the road from the RV park and next to the Dillard’s Addition neighborhood. It’s undeveloped and near the water, two factors that could make it the least expensive option.

It’s still unclear exactly why the property was thrown out of consideration early in the process. Carl Freund, owner of the property, said he asked several city staff members over the years why the land wasn’t being considered and got several different answers. Dudley said he’s still trying to get an answer from Carollo.

“It seems that once upon a time, based on a map somewhere, it looked like it was in a flood plain,” he said. He pointed out that the Pioneer Way site recommended by Carollo was also in a flood plain.

Cort, on the other hand, said it looks like the property was identified as a wetland in a city shoreline plan, though it’s apparently not the case in a more updated plan.

Robyn Kolaitis, a resident of Dillard’s Addition, said at a council meeting that she was involved in the public process of choosing a site and she suggested the Freund property early in the process. A member of city staff told her it couldn’t be so close to a residential neighborhood, even though another site that was recommended was just as close to homes.

Dudley said he will recommend to the council in December that the city issue a new request for qualifications to find the best and most economical choice in a firm, but ultimately it will be up to the council members. They could choose to continue with Carollo.

An official from Carollo didn’t return a call for comment.

 


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