City Council reverses itself and
Douglas Hadden April 24, 2003
PAWTUCKET Ending a nearly 15-month impasse, the City Council voted 6-3 Wednesday night to reverse a prior vote last November and then award a 20-year design-build-operate contract for a new water treatment plant to vendor Earth Tech, a unit of conglomerate Tyco International.
Personal appeals by Mayor James F. Doyle, several weeks of examining Earth Techs work elsewhere, pressure ratcheted up by revelations of the old plants increasing risk of failure and a determination to get the stalled project finally moving were among reasons councilors cited in reaching the decision.
Also key were concessions, still to be finally negotiated, wrung by Doyle to double fines for not meeting performance guarantees, and Earth Techs pledge to install at the outset --instead of several years down the line -- an ultraviolet pretreatment capacity.
Earth Tech also agreed to cut the price of the $330,000 UV system, which it initially offered as an option, in half, said regional vice president Robert Markowich.
Rival vendor USFilter had included UV in its initial proposal, something cited by several councilors when voting 8-1 to pick that firm a year ago January.
But Doyle, who backed the Pawtucket Water Supply Boards choice of Earth Tech for the 25 million gallons per day plant, and the council ended up in court over who had authority to choose the vendor, which both sides initially thought was the councils final call.
Last November a Superior Court judge ruled the council had authority whether to fund the contract, not choice of the vendor. The council subsequently voted 7-2 to reject funding a contract with Earth Tech.
It was that November vote that, on a motion by Councilor Robert Carr seconded by Councilor Chip Hoyas, both of whom had voted rejection last time, led to a 6-3 decision to reconsider the November turndown.
Councilor Mary Bray joined Carr and Hoyas in reversing prior positions, and now siding with Councilors David Moran and Paul Wildenhain That put the handwriting plainly on the wall for the actual contract award vote. The subsequent tally to fund the Earth Tech contract passed by the same 6-3 margin, with Council President John Barry and Councilors Thomas Hodge and David Clemente in the minority, saying they still favored U SFiIter.
Two vice presidents for USFilter, Dick Johnson and Sandra Sullivan, said after the vote they would not contest the outcome in court. "We wish them well," said Johnson. Unlike several prior meetings, USFilter did not have in attendance some of its heavy guns including attorney Richard Licht.
Cynthia Wilson, legal counsel for the state Public Utilities Commission, said the PUC still planned to hold a meeting May 1 on the condition of the 1938 plant, where $500,000 is being spent for a new main intake pipe to bypass original equipment worn dangerously thin in places. The bypass is to be done by late June.
PWSB Chief Engineer Pamela Marchand said the next steps would be finalizing contract terms to build the approximately $45 million plant, whose cost bids Earth Tech said it would keep at the levels it offered over a year and a half ago, Doyle said.
Marchand said work should start in three to six months, with the spigots to be turned on within two years of the start of construction.
Marchand also said the new plants location, which was to be behind PWSBs Branch Street headquarters in Pawtucket, remained subject to possible change.
PWSB would not pay taxes in Pawtucket but would in Cumberland, where the old plant is located. Cumberland Mayor Daniel Mckee is working up a tax-break offer to try and keep the plant in his town, which he will present to the Water Board.
Allen Champagne, PWSB water quality supervisor, said he still personally favors a site farther north than the Cumberland one Earth Tech evaluated as only $65,000 cheaper to build on than in Pawtucket. He said a site by the systems wellfields would offer more expansion room and level ground making construction cheaper. Cumberlands tax assessor has evaluated the difference at $10 million, but if its only half that it should be looked at, Champagne said.
Doyle after the vote said while the process was long and sometimes contentious, he felt vindicated in not resorting to hardball tactics in order to retain his long-standing good relations with the council.
Carr-- who opposed privatizing the plant at all, then thought USFilter the best choice, said he had decided "weeks ago" to go with Earth Tech to move the project forward. But Bray and Councilor Donald Grebien said they only decided Wednesday which way they would vote.
Hoyas said hed changed his mind when, in recent discussions with Doyle, the mayor acknowledged "it was a mistake" to have the council take the initial vendor choice vote but "it will never be USFilter." Thus,"Im fighting for an unnamed company," Hoyas concluded, adding he told Doyle, "if you want to stand behind (Earth Tech) then Ill stand behind you."
Grebien cited the tightened failure guarantees and upfront UV system, and that "theres no doubt the city needs to move forward."
Moran, a year ago January the only Earth Tech vote, said he remained "confident" they will perform well Wildenhain, who reversed course in November, saidif his initial choice of USFilter was not possible, he could live with Earth Tech.
Said Bray, "Im going to vote for Earth Tech but not comfortably. I think the city has missed a chance to have the very best." She added that "scare tactics have worked on me," referring to reports of the old plants problems.
Clemente, Barry and Hodge also said they still saw USFilter as the citys chance to get "the best," and Hodge said USFilter offered "much more experience." He also questioned the timing of the recent public news about the troubled intake pipe, which he said an engineer for US Filter had discovered.
Barry said recent inquiries of other facilities done by Earth Tech only "strengthened" his prior concerns, and while the city needed to move on, "I have to vote my conscience."
On the troubled pipe, Sullivan and Johnson of USFilter both said it was in the documents they submitted in their August 2001 proposal. Marchand said later she first heard of it last December from Champagne: but both said they do not recall seeing it in the USFilter proposal documents.
But Champagne acknowledged he was first told of it "in confidence" by someone knowledgeable of the engineering review in February 2002, a time when the contract with USFilter was almost concluded until the Water Board halted talks pending the court case. He said he "kept an eye" on the problem until notifying Marchand last December
Champagne also said engineers who looked at the pipe refused to go beyond patching. "We looked at welding and nobody would touch it. They said it would weaken the steel. They were too afraid to do it," he said.
A meeting with Earth Tech will be held today and contract talks will start shortly, with help from consultants, Marchand said.
Markowich pledged he would personally be extremely actively involved in the project. "This has to be an example of how good things go. Too many people have laid their neck out on the cutting board, mine included. Ill be there a lot more than Ive ever been" for any other similar project, he said.
Markowich wasnt the only one who found a long delayed measure of relief in the council decision: After the vote, Joan Doyle, the mayors wife, in the City Hall hallway locked with Water Board Chairwoman Mary Tetzner in an embrace of mutual congratulation.
Doyle before the vote told the council, "Ill be the first to admit communication wasnt what it should have been," a reference to the later dispute over powers vested in the council vs. the administration. But not getting the treatment plant moving would send a bad signal to new developers as well as residents and existing businesses, he said, hurting the citys progress.
Doyle after the vote said he was gratified by support of the councilors, several of whom on either side of the issue made it a point to express their continued trust in the mayor. "I think there was a trust factor there that I would not let them down," he said.
The Pawtucket Times 2003