July 02, 2004
- LEE -- In preparation for a special town meeting next
Thursday, the lone bidder for privatizing the town's sewer and
water systems met with about 70 residents and town officials at
a special informational meeting at Lee High School to outline
Representatives from Veolia Water of Houston,
including former state Rep. Christopher J. Hodgkins, now a vice
president and general manager for the company, were on hand to
answer residents' queries.
There was a little apprehension on the part of
some town representatives that this process, after meandering
along for about 12 years, was now accelerating dangerously. Many
believed the town should have more information.
Selectmen Chairman Gordon Bailey did not
disagree. However, he pointed out that next Thursday town
representatives will vote merely on whether to proceed with
negotiations with Veolia to privatize the town's sewer and
Should the town meeting agree that the town
should enter into negotiations, then Veolia and the town would
draw up a final contract. That final contract would be put
before the voters at another informational hearing, and the town
representatives would vote on whether to accept the contract at
a second special town meeting.
"So you have to remember, you get two
bites of the apple," said Bailey.
If the town representatives decide not to
enter into negotiations, the town will immediately begin plans
for the upgrade and expansion of the water and waste-water
systems. Presently, the engineering plans for the upgrade are
expected to cost about $600,000, with the construction costs
pegged at between $14 million and $16 million.
Last night, the town presented two reports
from what Town Administrator Robert Nason termed the "nonprice
proposal evaluation team" and the "price proposal
The nonprice team, chaired by John Philpot,
was charged with assessing Veolia's offer without taking price
into consideration. Philpot reported that his committee
interviewed a number of the company's officers and visited
several of their facilities.
The bottom line, said Philpot, was that Veolia
more than met the town's request for proposals. His committee
ruled that working with Veolia would be "advantageous"
to the town.
The other committee, chaired by David Parker,
reviewed the costs of the proposal. Parker pointed out that
Veolia submitted a bid of $15.7 million to retrofit the present
plant with the Zenon filtration membrane system.
However, Veolia also submitted a bid to build
an entirely new plant that would feature a "sequencing
batch reactor." The new plant would use only one large
filtration tank fitted for multiple purposes. This technology is
cheaper, and would cost only $12.3 million.
The reason that retrofitting the old plant
with the Zenon system would be more expensive, said Hodgkins,
was because Veolia would have to do the work in phases, and
could not shut down the present plant. A new plant would go up
faster, saving time and money.
Savings of $9.3 million
Operation costs for the Zenon system over the
life of a 20-year contract, as the proposal calls for, would be
$45 million. For the entirely new system, said Parker, the cost
would be $39.1 million. Hodgkins explained that the total
savings, between construction and overall operational costs to
the town would be $9.3 million over 20 years.
The advantage to using Veolia, said Hodgkins,
is that the contract would include a maintenance clause, under
which Veolia would have to return the equipment to the town in
the same condition in which it was accepted.
The informational session was meant to revolve
around technical aspects of the proposal. But a majority of
people in attendance wanted to know what would happen to the
seven town employees presently working at the plant.
The answer was they would become employees of
Veolia. Hodgkins and other company officials reiterated that the
contracts and benefits of those employees would be honored. The
town can insist on that in any contract with Veolia.
"We are a union company," said
Hodgkins. "We recognize all existing benefits and
seniority. Most employees will make more when they come to work