Barre City Council: Reservoir waits, but not trash
BARRE — City councilors this week balked at bids to repair the flood-damaged spillway at the Dix Reservoir in Orange but pressed ahead on ordinance revisions that could translate into higher trash collection bills for some landlords and businesses.
At the request of Mayor Thomas Lauzon, councilors agreed to wait a week before considering City Manager Steve Mackenzie’s recommendation that they accept J.P. Sicard Inc.’s low bid of just under $2.14 million to repair the spillway, which protects the water level of the city’s drinking water supply. It was undermined in flash flooding in May 2011.
Lauzon said he was underwhelmed by reference checks that the city’s consulting engineer, the Dufresne Group, compiled on the Barton firm after this summer’s bidding process.
“I just would not consider any of these recommendations glowing,” Lauzon said, noting that five of the six were laced with caveats that he believed the council should take time to consider.
Lauzon said that was particularly true given the difference of less than $25,000 between the J.P. Sicard bid and the one from S.D. Ireland Inc. of Williston. Though the other three bids ranged from nearly $2.3 million to more than $2.5 million, Lauzon said S.D. Ireland’s bid was within 1 percent, but references weren’t checked for the purposes of comparison.
That was intentional, according to Mackenzie, who repeatedly warned councilors that passing over the low bid could expose the city to legal action.
“The fundamental test of awarding a bid on a federally funded project is … is the contractor responsive and is he responsible,” Mackenzie said, suggesting that the Dufresne Group concluded J.P. Sicard met both tests and he concurred.
Mackenzie had reviewed what he described as a thorough and candid reference check.
“I’m comfortable that the consultant’s recommendation to award the bid is sound and reasonable,” he said. “There’s nothing in here that jumps out as overwhelmingly negative.”
However, Lauzon said there was nothing that was overwhelmingly positive either and raised concerns about J.P. Sicard’s “depth of experience.” Most of the projects the company provided for reference purposes had little if anything in common with the spillway repair, according to Lauzon. He said the firm has worked on only four FEMA projects and its only experience with dam repair involved a $94,000 project in Groton.
“This is a $2.1 million contract,” he said. “That’s a far cry from 94,000.”
Mackenzie said he had no problem with the council deferring action for a week and agreed to invite representatives from J.P. Sicard to next week’s council meeting. However, he warned that requesting references from S.D. Ireland would be a mistake.
“I would recommend against … considering anything other than awarding it to the low bidder,” he said. He added that the city has the resources to oversee the progress of the work.
The council voted 5-2 to table awarding the bid, and Councilor Paul Poirier urged Mackenzie re-evaluate the bids before making a recommendation.
“I’m not going to hold the contractor (responsible if something goes wrong), I’m going to hold you responsible,” he said.
Due to the cost and importance of repairing the spillway, Lauzon said he wanted a week to think about the decision and the opportunity to talk with representatives of J.P. Sicard.
“Poor quality work here is not an option,” he said. “It just isn’t.”
Meanwhile, councilors approved the first reading of an ordinance that, among other things, will require owners of rental properties and all commercial businesses to arrange for weekly trash pickup. Homeowners will still be afforded the more economical option of every-other-week pickup.
Many businesses also would have been exempt under the draft proposed Tuesday night. The draft ordinance didn’t cover businesses in clearly nonresidential areas, but Poirier said that language both confusing and subjective.
“The only way we can make this work is if it applies to everybody (except homeowners),” Poirier said.
Though City Clerk Carol Dawes told councilors that change probably warranted yet another first reading, members agreed to advance the ordinance to a second and final reading next week. The public hearing will be during Tuesday’s council meeting.
In other business this week, councilors approved the first reading of a minor change to the ordinance that outlines the procedure the city must follow when it shuts off water service to a delinquent customer. They also agreed to hire a Norwich consultant to complete a market study for the city’s proposed “tax increment finance” district. Councilors were told the study, which will be completed by Doug Kennedy Advisors this month, will cost roughly $7,000.
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