Water Industry News

Holyoke seeks consultant to oversee Aquarion

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

HOLYOKE - A City Council committee voted 5-0 last night to hire an independent consultant to oversee the city's 20-year contract with the Aquarion Operating Services Co. to upgrade and operate the wastewater treatment plant.

In doing so, the council's Public Safety Committee also voted to scrap two previous measures to create separate advisory or oversight committees, deciding that it would serve as the council's point of inquiry.

As agreed, the new proposal - to be drafted overnight and submitted as a late-filed order at tonight's full council meeting - calls for the city to seek bids for an engineer to monitor contract compliance.

That person or firm, councilors agreed, would assist Public Works Superintendent William D. Fuqua as contract administrator and be available to answer councilors' questions.

Any hiring of a consultant would also require the OK from Mayor Michael J. Sullivan, several councilors pointed out.

At-large Councilor Kevin A. Jourdain said both the mayor and the City Council need to have veto power over any new hire to ensure the deck is not stacked for or against Aquarion.

Last night's discussion generated some harsh criticism about Fuqua's ability to independently oversee a contract he supported for the past two years. But even Council President Joseph M. McGiverin, a strong supporter of hiring Aquarion because of projections it would save ratepayer money, endorsed the hiring.

"We're going to be asking a lot of tough questions and we need somebody to answer those questions," said McGiverin.

McGiverin discarded comments made recently by Fuqua that the city has no right to see Aquarion's books on the planned $24 million upgrades to the treatment plant and other operations.

"I think we have every right in the world to know where every dollar is spent," he said. "And we need someone ... with expertise to make sure there is compliance."

Voting to hire the consultant were Jourdain and Elaine A. Pluta, At-large Councilors John E. Whelihan and Committee Chairwoman Patricia C. Devine, and Ward 7 Councilor John J. O'Neill.

Jourdain, who has strongly opposed Sullivan's signing the Aquarion contract last July, said he remains against it. But, he explained, now that it is in place, the city should enforce it.

"I want to know where the money is going and what we're getting in return" for the 20-year, $176 million contract, he said.

O'Neill said the city knows what it's paying and what the contract calls for. But he said an independent consultant can make sure Aquarion is living up to the contract.

Ward 3 Councilor Helen F. Norris said the contract provides almost no savings to ratepayers, and that the cost of effective monitoring will make it more expensive than if the city ran the plant.




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