Bids for Tisbury Wastewater Plant Arrive at $1 Million Above Expected Price Tag

By JOSHUA SABATINI

The lowest bid to build a wastewater treatment facility in Tisbury has come in more than a million dollars higher than anticipated, raising financial concerns among town officials and residents that the project cost will stretch beyond its expected $8.3 million price tag.

Tisbury's public works director received a letter to this end last Friday from Peter T. Silbermann, vice president of Earth Tech Inc., the town's consulting firm for the project. Mr. Silbermann told Fred LaPiana that even if bids on the project's second component, a collection system, are consistent with estimates, the overall project cost will rise to $9.5 million.

Bids for the collection system do not close until early September.

The town does expect to receive two $500,000 grants from the Rural Development Agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that will help address the higher cost, said town administrator Dennis Luttrell.

Tisbury began to plan the wastewater project when the state encouraged compliance with the Massachusetts Clean Water Act. From 1990 until 1993, town voters approved at town meetings articles to appropriate money for the project.

Board of selectmen chairman Ray LaPorte said yesterday he has not yet fully reviewed the bids or information from Earth Tech, but that the town will have a number of options to consider.

In the letter, Mr. Silbermann said the town has to make a decision on how to proceed with the project now that the bids are in, while adding the decision-making process is "complicated" since the bids for the second part of the project will not be known until the fall.

The engineer's estimate for the treatment facility was about $4.2 million. Of the four bids received, the lowest - with a five per cent project contingency fee tacked on - was $5,247,898, from Process Construction Management Inc. of East Greenwich, R.I.

But the lowest bidder did not receive a high recommendation from Earth Tech. Mr. Silbermann wrote that his firm "has significant concerns about dealing with this contractor" and later refers to Process Construction as "difficult."

The estimated cost for the collection system was almost $1.7 million. Mr. LaPorte said he would not be surprised if the bids for the collection system also come in higher than estimated.

"The amount of the bid prices comes as little surprise," wrote Mr. Silbermann, "as we have known for quite some time that the budgeted amounts were developed years ago and the bidding climate, based on recently similar projects such as Nantucket and others, has been unfavorable."

According to the consultant, the town has four options on how to proceed: accept the bid, accept the bid and negotiate changes, rebid as designed, or redesign and rebid. Mr. Silbermann said redesigning the treatment facility will sacrifice the "quality of equipment, life of facility and the cost and ease of operation."

He advised the town to accept the lowest bid, despite his concerns about the contractor, in order to secure a zero per cent State Revolving Fund (SRF) loan and to achieve the facility as envisioned. A refiling with SRF could result in a loan commitment of two per cent or higher, said Mr. Silbermann.

Fifty per cent of the project's cost will come from taxpayers at large and the other 50 per cent from system users, said Mr. Luttrell. Both groups will soak up any additional project costs, he said.

Mr. Silbermann said discussions with SRF staff led him to believe additional funding under the zero per cent SRF loan could be secured. Also, he said, his talks with federal officials left him optimistic additional grant money would be available to the town.

According to Mr. Luttrell, there likely will be a special town meeting to ask voters to allow the town to appropriate additional money.

Selectmen had planned to begin installation of the pipes along Main street from Oct. 15 until Nov. 15 before breaking for the holiday season and then continuing after Jan. 1.

The selectmen will discuss the bids at their regularly scheduled meeting tonight at 6 p.m. at the Katharine Cornell Theatre.