Fort Smith Board approves $1 million contract related to consent decree

by Aric Mitchell ([email protected]) 792 views 

The Fort Smith Board of Directors approved a close to $1 million contract with Forsgren on Tuesday night (Jan. 17), for on-call contractual services related to annual sewer collection system improvements.

The decision is part of the estimated $480 million consent decree against the city for violations of the 1972 federal Clean Water Act, and will serve as a cost savings and emergency repair mechanism for the city’s Utilities Department.

According to Interim Fort Smith Utilities Director Bob Roddy of the consulting firm Burns & McDonnell, the project will establish “unit prices for individual items of unforeseen work to be performed during the year.”

“The work will be in two forms,” Roddy told the Board, adding that “one is to respond to an immediate emergency and the second is to be used to expedite repairs on a time sensitive system defect.”

One example of an immediate emergency was sewer replacement on Brockman from 43rd Street to Albert Pike. In that case, Roddy noted, it was necessary for the construction to begin prior to unit prices being negotiated and approved by the Board.

Roddy continued: “This contract establishes the unit cost in advance and preselects a contractor to perform the work by the competitive bidding process. Utility staff sees this as a more efficient and cost effective approach to handling these types of situations.”

The low bid for the project was submitted by Forsgren in the amount of $1.515 million. Since the amount exceeded the amount budgeted by the city, the quantities of items in the bid were adjusted to bring the contract amount below the budgeted amount, resulting in a $998,480 total. The city estimated around $250,000 in emergency repairs over the last year. If that number were to hold in light of the new contract, the contractor would only be paid for the work performed. So essentially, the $998,480 number is a spending cap for the city. Anything more than that would require Board approval.

The federal consent decree took effect on Jan. 1, 2015, and is expected to take 12 years and close to a half-billion dollars to complete. Roddy and staff have been trying to find ways to reduce costs, and the pre-quoted unit prices are one in a series of case-by-case measures the city will be taking to scale back the final price tag.

While the consent decree is unlikely to go away any time soon, the city is hopeful for some form of relief with a new President taking office on Jan. 20. U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton met with Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last Wednesday (Jan. 11), where he opened dialogue specifically about Fort Smith’s consent decree issue.

“During our meeting we discussed the impact EPA regulations are having on Arkansas farms, businesses, and energy companies; Fort Smith’s issues with EPA’s consent decree; and ways to lower water and energy costs for all Arkansans,” Cotton said, adding, “I look forward to supporting his nomination.”

Also Tuesday, the city approved a $1.206 million contract with Forsgren on widening and improvements to Jenny Lind Road between Zero Street and Cavanaugh Road and Ingersoll Avenue from Jenny Lind Road to U.S. 71B. The payment is part of a $28.83 million overall contract. With the latest approval, the amount paid by the city totals $10.87 million leaving a $17.959 million balance.

In other news, Fort Smith City Administrator Carl Geffken told Talk Business & Politics Tuesday night that a decision on a Utilities Director will have to wait another week. Geffken said he had “a lot to contemplate” after holding interviews with four finalists earlier in the month.

Geffken “guaranteed” a decision would come next week. The city previously offered the job to Francisco Martinez of Puerto Rico at an annual salary of $102,000. Martinez turned down the offer last September, thus delaying the hiring date for the position into early 2017.