Marion needs more money to complete wastewater plant project

Feb 5, 2019

MARION – In May, Marion voters approved $2.5 million for wastewater treatment plant improvements. However, it appears as though the town will be back requesting additional money after an estimation error that leaves the town a little over $2 million short.

After the money was approved for improvements required by the Environmental Protection Agency, the town sent out a request for proposals. Now that the bids are back, with the lowest coming in at $4.68 million, the Board of Selectmen had questions. 

The estimate of $2.5 million came from CDM Smith, the town’s consulting engineers for wastewater. At Tuesday night’s meeting, Matthew Pitta and Bill McConnell were on hand to answer those questions.

“How could it be that wrong?” Selectman John Waterman asked. 

Selectman Randy Parker echoed that, asking what the board was expected to tell taxpayers.

“I gotta have an explanation,” he said. “You’re professionals.”

Pitta said that the vast difference in price came from a variety of places. The lagoon liner cost significantly more than what he was quoted, the groundwork and quantity of sand required cost more, and the cost of sludge removal was almost four times more than what had been estimated.

“That $2.5 million estimate was a few years old, you made no effort to update it?” Waterman asked.

McConnell said that his team had looked for a disconnect that would have caused the discrepancy, but said it ultimately just came down to every line item costing more than expected.

Resident TJ Walker spoke up, criticizing CDM Smith.

“This is a colossal failure on behalf of our consultants,” he said. “They confirmed categorically that was enough money to finish the project…We’re in a real problem. There’s no way we can pick up another $2.5 million.”

Waterman asked if going out to bid again would result in a lower number, but Pitta was doubtful.

“It’s a different type of job than what happens around here a lot,” he said. “I’m not sure there’s a specific appetite for this kind of work.”

The town only received two bids on the project, with the second one coming in at over $6 million.

Town Administrator Paul Dawson agreed that going out to bid again was likely a bad idea, and said he had spoken to the EPA about extending the Dec. 1 deadline and that going back to Town Meeting for more money was the best option.

“As bitter a pill as this is to swallow, the reality is the regulatory agencies won’t let us not do this,” he said. “If we do nothing we face up to $52,000 a day in fine. The issue doesn’t just go away.”

The board reluctantly agreed to ask voters for the rest of the money to fund the project, but said the credibility of CDM Smith had been hurt.

“Do we need to start getting second opinions?” Waterman asked. “If I need a major surgery I’d get a second opinion.”