The City of Saline two step forwards on a plan officials hope will correct the odor problem at the wastewater treatment plant.
Odors from the facility have long been a problem in the city, particularly in the neighborhoods in the immediate vicinity of the plant, which is located between South Monroe Street and the Saline River. The problem has grown, both in magnitude and frequency in the last three or four years.
At Monday’s meeting Saline City Council voted 7-0 to award a $330,000 design contract to Tetra Tech – the firm that recently completed the $3 million upgrade at the plant. City Council also approved a resolution start the process to bond up $4 million to repair the plant.
It’s expected the project should start in the spring of 2018 and be completed by April 2019.
Council peppered City Superintendent Gary Rubal and Tetra Tech Vice President Brian Rubel with questions before voting on the measure to award the contract to the firm, which has a long history with Saline. Even before the city council approved the contract, Tetra Tech and the city had been working together on the application for a low-interest loan from the state of Michigan.
Rubel reported some good to the city. The city will qualify for $100,000 in loan principal forgiveness instead of $50,000 the city originally believed it might receive.
Despite the unanimous vote, several members of council showed unease with the awarding of the contract to Tetra Tech. Part of the concern was there were no other bids for the project. Councillors are also a little leery because the odor problem became serious about the time Tetra Tech began working on the plant.
“You’ve been working on the sewer treatment plant for the last three and half years. I am very concerned, as you know, that this be resolved as an issue. My concern has been that part of the renovation of this plant contributed to some of the change in the odor,” Councillor Dean Girbach said. “So as we move forward, I want to put Tetra Tech on notice that whatever you do in this design, it needs to solve this problem.”
Rubel replied, “The design will be to the standards of the issue. I promise you that.”
Tetra Tech will subcontract with Webster Environmental Associates for the design of the specific odor control devices and design all other parts of the project, including site work, structural engineering, electrical, mechanical and architectural engineering.
Councillor Janet Dillon asked City Manager Todd Campbell if the city faced any issues for awarding the project with only one bidder.
Campbell said to qualify for the state loan, the city must send out requests for qualifications to firms. Gary Roubal said the city send the RFQs to nine firms.
“You would hope you would get multiple responders, compare responses, and determine which firm would do it. Then you would turn around and negotiate the dollars,” Campbell said. “There is not an issue because we did bid it out to multiple folks. Unfortunately, we got one respondent.”
Dillon asked if the city should be concerned by the lack of responses.
“Why are we not getting multiple people who want to work with the city?” Dillon asked.
Gary Roubal said firms didn’t bother responding because Tetra Tech is considered the state’s expert on wastewater projects. On top of that, he said, Tetra Tech has an intricate knowledge of the city’s infrastructure and its capacity.
“They responded and said ‘We have to decline because we can not compete with Tetra Tech because of their expertise,’” Roubal said.
With no bids to compare, Dillon asked where the $330,000 design fee came from.
Roubal said the design fee, as a percentage, will be higher than it was to the most recent Tetra Tech projects due to the complexity of the work.
Councillor Christen Mitchell said she questioned the city’s loyalty to Tetra Tech when the odor issue hasn’t improved.
Campbell said that the city has never asked Tetra Tech to solve the odor problem – beyond some measures attempted during phase two of its most recent project.
“I’ve scrubbed our records. We have been retained in the last 20 years for anything to do with odor control,” Roubel said. “So to say it’s gotten worse, or that we haven’t been able to improve it – we haven’t been hired to improve it.”
The city’s water superintendent Bob Scull defended Tetra Tech.
“Tetra Tech has been our go-to engineering firm for the last few years. They designed the water plant. They designed several stages of the wastewater plant. They know more about the plant and the situation. With Webster, I feel it will be a great choice,” Scull said. “I’m on the phone with Tetra Tech every other day asking for free help and they give it to me.”
City Council has expressed the desire for expediency on the wastewater treatment plant project. Scull questioned if re-bidding the project would slow it down.
“So the question is, do we go forward or do we start over again and look for bids. I’m not sure what that would do to the timeline,” Scull said.
When it came to discussion on the vote, Councillor Jack Ceo advocated for a yes vote.
“I believe it’s critical to move forward. Tetra Tech has always been an excellent engineering firm. Because of the timing and the desire of the city to move forward as quickly as possible, it’s essential we approve this,” Ceo said.
Councillor Heidi McClelland said that it’s important the project be done right. If other companies are so impressed with Tetra Tech that they don’t even bid on a job, then Tetra Tech is likely right for the job, she said.