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City hires watchdog firm for new plant

December 14, 2012

WOONSOCKET – At a cost of $1.04 million over four years, the city hired a watchdog firm to oversee the planning, design and construction of a new, $36 million wastewater treatment plant.
The Budget Commission voted unanimously Thursday to hire the wastewater consulting firm Weston & Sampson of Peabody, Mass., on the recommendation of Public Works Director Sheila McGauvran.
The same commission voted in June to award the Denver, Colo.-based company CH2M Hill a contract to design, build and operate the new water treatment plant for 20 years. The actual worth of the contract, including the operation of the plant, is closer to $80 million, but construction costs check in at about $36.6 million.
The city is facing state and federal mandates to reduce levels of phosphorous and nitrates in wastewater discharged into the Blacktone River by May 2017. The city has been under orders to comply with the new regulations since 2008, but it has repeatedly won deadline concessions from the state Department of Environmental Management, citing its tenuous financial situation.
To pay for a plant capable of meeting the targets, the average customer’s bill is expected to rise from $86 to $116 per quarter over the next five years.
Accounting for less than 3 percent of construction costs, the oversight contract for Weston & Sampson was characterized by members of the commission as a good deal. Some said it was not unusual for such services to run in the range of 10 to 15 percent of construction costs.
Kent M. Nichols, Jr., vice president of Weston and Sampson, stopped short of issuing a guarantee that the company would not seek an amendment to the contract for some unexpected change of circumstances in the future.
But he told commissioners, “This is what we think it will take to get you through the next four years.”
In advance of the construction project, CH2M Hill took over the operation of the city-owned Woonsocket Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant on Cumberland Street on Oct. 1, replacing Veolia North America.
In a related matter, the budget commission also voted Thursday to award Weston & Sampson a $44,000 contract to finish an analysis of the city’s waste stream known as a “local limits” study. The point is to figure out if the plant CH2M Hill is designing will have the technical sophistication to adequately neutralize the pollutants coming in from the sewer system.
The local limits study is an essential component of the planning phase of the plant and must be approved by DEM for the project to continue moving forward, officials said.
Veolia North America is still owed $88,000 for work it did on a local limits study before its tenure as caretaker of the wastewater treatment plant ended, McGauvran told the commission.
McGauvran said Veolia subcontracted the project out to Wright Pierce engineering consultants and the city was not satisfied with the results, which turned out to be erroneous and inaccurate in some cases. Nevertheless, she said, Weston & Sampson needs access to the company’s findings in order to complete its own study, and that means paying for them.

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