By RUSS OLIVO
WOONSOCKET — A consulting team assembled by the Providence law firm of Pannone Lopes Devereaux & West has been hired to evaluate the city’s plans for replacing the antiquated Charles Hamman Water Treatment Plant on Manville Road.
The Budget Commission accepted the firm’s $23,500 offer to review the plans on a unanimous vote earlier this week. Lawyer Teno West, the team leader, told members in a letter the job would be done no later than April 30.
“PLDW understands the difficult financial conditions the city faces,” he said in a letter to Commissioner Dina Dutremble. “We are, therefore, committed to providing competitive pricing for our services and will manage the engagement through a team approach which provides quality legal services in a cost effective manner.”
Mayor Leo T. Fontaine and Public Works Director Sheila McGaurvan have been charting a course to replace the water plant for months that is centered around a concept known as design-built-operate, or DBO. In layman’s terms, that means they want the new plant to be designed, built and later operated by the same private, for-profit company for perhaps 20 years, arguing it’s the most frugal approach for ratepayers.
As the project nears the design phase, a chorus of opposition to the plan has arisen from the ranks of city workers who run the plant, among others. The plant employs 33 workers who are members of Council 94 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, many of whom are worried about losing their jobs if the plant is privatized. City officials say they could save $1 million a year if the plant were operated by a private company, most of it in personnel costs, but city workers say a non-profit municipal utility can still deliver clean water more cheaply to city residents.
McGauvran told The Call earlier this week that she’s anxious for the consultants to evaluate the competing claims. She said the administration has made its case for privatization, the union has made another against it, and she views the hiring of a consultant as the budget commission’s effort to obtain an unbiased, neutral assessment.
The consultants have been given a specific directive to figure out whether a DBO or a traditional approach to running the new plant would be cheaper for ratepayers.
West, the team leader, has extensive experience in representing government agencies on alternative construction methods, including design-build-operate. Other team members, all lawyers, include Bernard A. Jackvony, a former lieutenant governor who has worked with a number of municipal leaders on infrastructure improvement projects; Bruce H. Tobey, who is familiar with environmental policy and public utilities management; and Jacquelyn V. Meiser, am expert on matters involving water and wastewater.
The state Department of Environmental Management has ordered the city to end the practice of dumping a sludge-like processing byproduct from the 50-year-old plant known as filter backwash into the Blackstone River to protect the habitat for fish and other river creatures. The city says the most pennywise way of complying with the order is to replace the plant, which is reaching the end of its functional lifespan. The reigning estimate for the work is about $55 million.