Fulton, Atlanta Names OMI to run
Northside waste water system

United Water was low bidder

US Filter judged best technically qualified

Alfred Charles - Staff
Friday, April 21, 2000

A sharply divided Fulton County Commission has awarded a $36 million long-term contract to operate its Northside waste water facilities over objections from some commissioners about the selection process.

Operations Management International Inc. (OMI) was chosen on a 4-3 vote to run the system. It prevailed over United Water Services, U.S. Filter Operating Services Inc. and Azurix.

The nod to OMI has led United Water to consider a court challenge to the eight-month selection process, which has been beset by whispers of impropriety and an enormous amount of lobbying by the four firms.

"This is a great opportunity for us to get in there and make significant improvements," said Daniel Groselle, a regional vice president for OMI. "The worst thing that can happen is to win a job and not perform."

The firm will assume control in June of the north Fulton system, which includes operation and maintenance of the Big Creek, Little River and Johns Creek plants and 29 pumping stations.

The system has been managed since 1992 by United Water. It wanted to keep the Fulton contract, but has been criticized for spills, including one that occurred in March, when nearly 600,000 gallons of partially treated sewage spewed from the Big Creek plant into the Chattahoochee River.

United Water lost the contract even though its price was the lowest.

"We can't win them all," said Douglas Reichlin, a senior vice president at the firm. "But we are somewhat disappointed."

Commissioner Emma Darnell unsuccessfully urged her colleagues to rebid the contract after an hourlong debate.

She suggested the idea based on her belief that it was not fair because OMI's partner for the job, E.R. Mitchell, did not have any experience managing waste water systems; only two members on the seven-member county selection committee were sufficiently skilled to judge the abilities of waste water firms; and the company with the lowest bid was not the favored firm.

The losing companies said they are trying to make sense of the county selection process, which favored OMI even though US Filter was judged to have had better technical skills, and United Water had a lower cost.

Terry Todd, the county's public works director, told commissioners that OMI was the best overall value.

"We are disappointed we did not get selected," said Richard Harville, a top Azurix executive. "We did have some confusions about the procurement process."

Reichlin, of United Water, said his firm is reviewing the county's procurement files to root out any legalities that can be challenged in court. "If we find something was done improper, we reserve the right to proceed in that direction," he said.

"If there was some hanky-panky involved, the contract should be thrown out," said Groselle, "but it was not on our part. We play by the rules."