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Austin Water Utility awards Jollyville Main bid, surprising opponents

Thursday, July 21, 2011 by Michael Kanin

The Austin Water Utility and its construction manager-at-risk have reached an agreement with two firms who will construct the much-debated Jollyville Transmission Line portion of the Water Treatment Plant 4 project. The deal, with Fort Worth-based Southland Contracting and Beachwood, Ohio-based Mole Constructors is for $85 million. However, the utility expects that costs for the line could rise to $100 million as the project moves forward.


Austin Water spokesperson Jason Hill noted that about 90 percent of the work will go to Southland. The remaining 10 percent will go to Mole.


That news came just in time for last night’s Environmental Board briefing on the environmental monitoring of construction on the Jollyville line. Austin Sierra Club Vice Chair Roy Waley used the opportunity to weigh in on the news. “We had been told that none of those (contracts) would be signed until August,” he said. “Now there’s a rush to get this contract signed and I’m very curious about that – curious rhymes with another feeling that’s inside of me too.”


He later asked the board to question city officials on the timing of the contracts. Board Member Jon Beall obliged him. Department of Public Works Project Manager Jason Bybel told Beall that the contract was bid out in June, and that, since then, there have been “extensive contract negotiations.”


Board Member Robert Anderson asked Bybel if members of the City Council and the City Manger had approved the deal. Bybel replied that they had—with their November 2010 award of over $350 million for the water treatment plant project.


After the hearing he expanded on the issue. “With any construction project, schedule is always an issue, and if there is any opportunity to accelerate that schedule, we’re definitely willing to take advantage of that,” he told In Fact Daily. “We saw that we had the bid done, negotiated, we can move on it, let’s do it – let’s get this thing into construction … May 2014 is around the corner.”


Meanwhile, rumors continued to float around City Hall about possible Council action to question the utility about what it might cost to shut down the construction of the plant. Still, not much is likely to change. Council Member Bill Spelman said Wednesday night that he had talked with members of the environmental community who suggested that the Council order the utility to stop work on the project. Spelman was not ready to take that step. Because the contract has been signed on the Jollyville main, he said, “the horses are out of the barn now.”


Spelman said he is expecting City Manager Marc Ott to schedule a briefing on the water treatment plant for the Council’s July 28 meeting. Although there has been talk at City Hall about a resolution directing the utility to do one thing or another regarding the plant, that now seems unlikely—at least next week.


Spelman said he met with Assistant City Manager Rudy Garza and AWU Director Greg Meszaros Wednesday. Spelman said he wanted to know “what would be the cost if we were to slow down or stop the project and take it up again for 4, 5 or 10 years.”


He said he did not get a definitive answer on the question. “I don’t know what the costs of that would be (but) they suggested the cost would be pretty high,” he said. Spelman said he did not want the utility to spend extra money to determine the cost and that staff thought they could bring back a ballpark figure within 30 days. If that is not sufficient information, Spelman said he would be open to spending some money to get additional facts.

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