Water Treatment Boondoggle
The “Granite Low” site in the foothills southwest of Ashland, recommended for the city’s new water treatment plant, is on a slope with a high hazard of landslides. It also is difficult to access, although “other less hazardous, more cost effective sites owned by the city are available.”
This information is part of a court document in the case of Senior Engineer Pieter Smeenk, who was fired in February of 2017 after expressing his concerns about the site and the lack of competitive bidding on two of four proposed city water projects. Smeenk recently won his suit against the city by unanimous vote of the jury and was awarded $258,000 in damages plus $410,000+ in court fees, to be paid for by city insurance.
Smeenk expressed concern about awarding “engineering contracts for four major projects to a single consultant. The first phase alone for this award will cost $855,000. The total engineering fees for these contracts, although not disclosed, could exceed $4 million,” the court document states.
He also expressed concern that the lead engineer for HDR, in contention to build the water treatment plant, was fired during the procurement process, only to be hired by Keller and Associates, which lists the Ashland Water Treatment Plant and Reservoir as its project number 217002. This project encompasses building a new water treatment plant and work on the Crowson II Reservoir, the Terrace Estate Pump Station, and the Park Estates Pump Station.
“City procurement ordinances require that engineering services exceeding $35,000 be procured through a competitive process. The Park Estates and Terrace Street Pump Stations engineering services should be procured competitively and separately, assuring an open and fair process, and protecting the city from legal challenges,” the document states.
Smeenk warns that “the approximately 20% reduction in water demand since the reservoir and plant were sized in 2012” should compel the city to rethink its desire to build a new water treatment plant costing millions of dollars. The city also should take into account Ashland’s now permanent connection to the Medford-Phoenix-Talent TAP water system.
He also warns that “the costs and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for moving the water treatment plant (WTP) are extremely large, and the benefit of relocating is relatively small.” Smeenk also recommends that “Environmental and geotechnical site drilling and testing should be completed before the site is finally selected.
Addie Greene, Ashland