Tisbury Severs Firm in Wastewater Plan

Selectmen Drop Earth Tech Engineers in Sharp Dispute Over Money Issues; Rhode Island Company Gets Nod


Tisbury selectmen voted unanimously Tuesday night to terminate the town's relationship with its wastewater engineers and to jump to another firm on the eve of the town's largest municipal project in decades.

Confronted with a fee hike request from Earth Tech, the selectmen decided to move forward with the engineering firm of BETA Group Inc., based in Lincoln, R.I.

"We've had large money issues with them in the past. This is a pattern with them . . . we haven't even had a shovel in the ground and they already asked for more money," said Tristan Israel in explaining his vote. "It's early enough in the game."

"They have not lived up to their word," said selectman Tom Pachico "Personally, I'd like to switch horses. I've had enough of them."

Fred LaPiana, director of the department of public works (DPW), agreed with the selectmen's decision. "Earth Tech, just as Tom said, has not been forthright in their responsibilities," said Mr. LaPiana.

Mr. LaPiana's department is responsible for the execution of the Main street project, which will take place in conjunction with the town's $6 million wastewater project. The DPW will bury utility lines and widen sidewalks following the installation of sewer lines along Main street.

Selectmen expressed confidence that their decision to change engineers at this late juncture will not throw a wrench into the town's plans to begin the wastewater project by Jan. 1.

"I don't think that we're going to lose any time because BETA Group has already indicated that they will come down here without a contract," said Mr. Pachico. In fact, as town administrator Dennis Luttrell explained Wednesday, going forward in that manner isn't allowable. Town counsel on Wednesday was working to review terms of a new contract with BETA Group, set for $453,180, and Mr. Luttrell said Tisbury planned to formally notify Earth Tech of its severance that day.

The decision does leave things a bit open ended. The town is funding the project through the state revolving fund and will have to abide by whatever process is required for changing engineers.

"It's really out of our control here. We have to sit here and take whatever comes down the pike," said Mr. Luttrell.

Last week, with the ink still drying on permits from the state Department of Environmental Protection to move ahead with construction, the Earth Tech engineers requested that their fees be increased from $362,666 to $686,387. They linked their request to the increased cost of the municipal project, which itself had gone from an estimated $3 million to more than $6 million.

At that time, the selectmen countered that a change in the overall construction costs has no impact on the amount of work for the engineers. They asked the engineers to reconsider and come back with a more reasonable offer. On Friday, Earth Tech did come back with an offer of $507,491, but in the end the selectmen decided to save more than $50,000 by jumping over to BETA Group.

A point of contention through this process has been the relationship between PCM, the treatment plant contractor, and Earth Tech. Earth Tech officials warned that they regard PCM as a problematic contractor that will need additional supervision time, costing $75,000.

This week, Russ Parry, vice president of PCM, said his company is considering against Earth Tech for those comments. He said Earth Tech, a subsidiary of Tyco, was using PCM in an attempt to fatten its bottom line. PCM, he said, is a reputable company whose client list includes Pfizer, Amgen and GE Medical.

"We find it very unfair that a large firm like Earth Tech/Tyco seeks to justify what were minor issues with PCM and attempts to damage our reputation," he said.

Peter T. Silbermann, vice president of Earth Tech, said Wednesday that his firm had not yet received any news from Tisbury officials regarding their action of Tuesday night.