Soundoff: Mayor, council remain accountable in project cost increases

  • Friday, February 23, 2018 1:55pm
  • Opinion

To the citizens of the City of Oak Harbor:

You elected me to serve as your mayor in 2016 and I take that responsibility very seriously. In that regard, you also entrusted me and your city council to oversee the largest construction project the City of Oak Harbor has ever undertaken. As part of that role, it is my job to make sure the right people are in place to supervise the various components of this project and that it is completed on time and constructed in a fiscally responsible manner.

Oak Harbor’s Clean Water Facility is now 70 percent complete and is scheduled to be finished in December 2018, with the park construction continuing into spring. About two weeks ago, I was advised that the total project cost estimate for the finished plant is now nearly $142 million.

This latest estimate is $18-$20 million higher than the final cost projection the city council and I were provided in September 2016. Like you, I have a lot of questions about that number, how it got that high and why neither I nor members of our city council learned about it several months ago. And I want to know if there will be any more surprises before the end of the year.

This is a complex project with an equally complex contract. It is not a fixed price contract like many smaller construction projects tend to be. And we have gone through a “superheated market” for the building and construction trades — a factor that affects construction costs in a contract like the one we have with our general contractor. Nevertheless, I want to know what happened and why it appears that the costs of our treatment plant are three to four times what a similar plant cost just eight years ago.

I am pursuing the retention of a well-regarded construction specialist to conduct an intensive “construction review” of the Clean Water Facility from its inception to the present. I have requested a thorough but prompt review and report, and believe that is achievable. Once those findings are placed on my desk, I expect to learn whether these substantial increases, over original estimates, are due to unavoidable increases in construction costs or something more serious.

Like many of you, I was very surprised to learn about the last two substantial increases in the estimated costs of the Clean Water Facility — over $20 million from prior estimates in the fall of 2016; and another $20 million increase just three weeks ago. I don’t like surprises and certainly not of this magnitude.

Communication is essential in all relationships and I am very disappointed in the lack of communication between myself and city staff that has occurred in regard to the “cost creep” that has taken place on this project. I intend to examine and evaluate both the persons and the departments involved in this project.

But make no mistake. The buck stops with me, and you have my word that I will take all necessary steps to obtain answers to the questions that we all have. And I remain accountable to each and every one of you who live in this city. I will communicate to you with full transparency. I will ask the hard questions of city staff and myself and provide you the answers you deserve.

If you would like to sign up for my monthly Clean Water Facility report to the community, please email Working together we solved the debilitating strife and miscommunication that plagued our police department before I took office, and I am confident that we can do the same with this very important project that will affect us all for many years to come.

• Bob Severns is mayor of Oak Harbor.

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