Resembling the movie Groundhog Day, the topic of the Auburn Lake Trails Water Treatment Plant got the rerun treatment at yet another special board meeting of the Georgetown Divide Public Utility District.
Held on Tuesday night, the board received an update from board member Maria Capraun on conversations held with the California Department of Public Health, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the El Dorado County Water Agency.
Capraun reported that while CDPH said they didn’t have time to meet with them, they did communicate there is no deadline for completing the retrofit of ALT Water Treatment Plant upgrade as long as the district is making progress. However, CDPH noted that GDPUD is the longest non-complying agency they’ve ever had.
A teleconference with the USDA was also held regarding a loan for the project. According to Capraun, the USDA was not aware that the cost of the project had gone from $5.7 to $11 million. They told her if the district wanted to borrow additional funds, they would have to do another engineering study. In addition, the district would have to conduct another Proposition 218 process. Capraun said the district needs an additional $2.5 million to $3 million to cover the estimated cost of the project.
Capraun said she also requested additional grant funding from the El Dorado County Water Agency for either engineering studies or a value engineering process.
The board then discussed whether it was worth undergoing a value engineering process and if so, who should conduct it. Originally the board had approached Psomas, the engineering firm that designed the ALT plans, with the idea of conducting a program for the district with the idea that it could help cut costs.
However, Board member Norm Krizl argued against the process, saying it was, “a real slap in the face to the staff who have worked on this (project) very diligently for God knows how many years. This board is not the expert on this plant, and the history of it, and the details, and the technology and funding processes and all that …” He said staff should be more involved in the process and the project should be put out to bid so they know exactly what it will cost rather than just what it is estimated to cost.
Interim General Manager Kelly Shively agreed, saying, “We have looked at the thing to death.” He said three different engineers had already examined all their options and they had done everything they could to control the cost of the project. “I really don’t know what else I can do for you to save costs,” he concluded, noting that originally the plan had been to build a plant at Greenwood Lake but at $20 million it was too expensive. So now they were pursuing a project that would cost half as much.
Shively also added that the reason the USDA had only been asked for a $5.7 million loan was because at the time, the plans for ALT were only conceptual. Shively also expressed his reservations about value engineering, saying there were no assurances that any money would be saved and having to re-engineer the plans for the plant would be very costly.
Despite Shively’s reservations, Board member Kathy Otermat said the district should talk to the engineers at CDPH before going out to bid, maintaining that ALT plan was overbuilt. However, board member Ray Griffiths disagreed, saying that CDPH does not do engineering for water districts. “That’s not their job,” he said. “Their job is to ensure the water delivered is safe and that’s our problem, not theirs.”
Griffiths proposed putting the project out to bid, saying that further discussion was a waste of time and the district could eventually be fined for not being in compliance.
Resident Richard Milner volunteered that the discussion of how to finance the project was a political decision, not an engineering decision. “I see a board with no experience in engineering,” he said, noting that staff should lead the discussion, not the board. “You’re trying to make a political decision when it’s really an engineering decision. You’re never going to get anywhere the way this is happening.” He also noted that the board’s behavior seemed to stem from a distrust of the staff, saying “If you don’t trust the staff, then this district is non-functional and at some point, someone is going to come along and take you over.”
Milner went on to suggest that if the district needed more funds, the board should take a stand and raise its rates. Board President Bonnie McLane later said, “We are going to be raising rates” at which Krizl noted that, “so it’s now on the record that we are going to raise rates and that’s something you’ve railed about for decades.”
Krizl then motioned to put the ALT project out to bid in order to determine its true cost. The motion was seconded by Griffiths, but Otermat, Capraun and McLane voted no. Instead it will be on the agenda at the next regular meeting. In the interim, they will attempt to meet with CDPH.
The board also decided to interview all five law firms responding to their RFP for legal services. The interviews will be conducted in closed session on May 29.
The board voted to accept the description of the roles and responsibilities of the finance committee, with the understanding that the group’s recommendations are advisory only.
The board also asked Shively to present a budget for the next fiscal year at the May board meeting.
The next regular meeting of the board will be May 14 at 4 p.m. at the district headquarters.
Contact Dawn Hodson at 530-344-5071 or [email protected] Follow @DHodsonMtDemo on Twitter.