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Citizens shouldn’t pay for engineering shortcomings

Letters to the Editor

 


As best I can determine, we (the town of Coulee Dam) paid our engineer (Gray & Osborne) about $80,000 to prepare a Wastewater Facilities Plan. What did we get? We got a document replete with inaccurate planning assumptions, non-compliant with the town’s Comprehensive Plan, void of the expected and typical scoping process, and virtually missing the analysis of “alternatives.” We also got the frustration and anger of our citizens and project partner (the town of Elmer City) — all because we forgot (or neglected) to include them as we planned and developed the $5.2 million-plus project!

Now we are faced with angry citizens, a partner that wants a divorce, a project that is/was no longer proper, significant additional engineering/planning costs, AND huge increases in our sewer bills! Why? Well, because the town let its engineer loose without the due-diligent management restraint you would expect; AND an engineer stuck in an overdesign paradigm — replete with its financial rewards!

The town has decided to fix all of this by hiring another engineer to “value engineer” the project. Yes, value engineering (VE) is a good thing — once you have selected and designed the right project! What are needed now (before VE) are a thorough project scoping (public) process AND the development of project “alternatives.” By the way, alternatives might include: a new (more operationally efficient) plant near the existing one, two plants (one for Coulee Dam and one for Elmer City), a “regional” facility serving both communities and other unincorporated areas, extensive modifications to the existing plant, necessary modifications to the existing plant, and a do-nothing. Of course there are many iterations possible and the best alternative can only be developed by a due and thorough engineering/planning/economic analysis … the kind of analysis that the Coulee Dam Facilities Plan should have included in the first place!

Now, who should pay for this? Who should be responsible for the cost of poor engineering and planning? Your mayor and our council think it should be you … should be us! And to make that clear, they refused to roll back the recently imposed rates because they (paraphrased) need the money to pay for the errors and omissions of the engineer!

Me? Who do I think should pay for this “independent” development of alternatives? Who else but the engineer that developed the plan that got us to this frustrating place … Gray & Osborne!

Greg Wilder

 

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