Tisbury Voters Face Decision on Money for Treatment Plant

By JOSHUA SABATINI

Tisbury selectmen will convene a special town meeting Sept. 10 to ask voters for an additional $2 million to fund a proposed wastewater treatment project, having pushed the project over budget Tuesday by accepting a bid for construction of a wastewater treatment center.

The board's action came this week at the recommendation of Earth Tech Inc., the town's consulting firm for the project.

While the cost increase is a concern for selectmen, so is the lowest bidder, Process Construction Management Inc. of East Greenwich, R.I.

Peter T. Silbermann, vice president of Earth Tech, met first with Tisbury's wastewater advisory committee Tuesday afternoon and then with selectmen to discuss strategy for moving ahead with the project.

Mr. Silbermann said his firm "has significant concerns about dealing with this contractor" and characterized Process Construction as a "difficult" business partner.

Mr. Silbermann emphasized his concerns about the contractor by advising selectmen to provide Earth Tech with $50,000 to enable its project supervisor to spend more time overseeing the contractor's work.

Also, Mr. Silbermann recommended raising the five per cent project contingency fee on the contractor's low bid of $5 million to 10 per cent. The reason, said Mr. Silbermann, is that "we are expecting a lot of issues, have legal concerns, etc."

Despite Mr. Silbermann's expressed worries, he recommended the selectmen award the project to Process Construction.

"This sounds gloomy," said selectman Tristan Israel. "It sure doesn't sound like a good way to get the project off the ground."

Mr. Silbermann said he does not feel that Earth Tech cannot work with Process Construction, and more so, the town really doesn't have a choice.

Selectmen are required to award the contract to the lowest bidder, unless the contractor is proven incompetent.

Earth Tech's investigation of Process Construction failed to discover a sufficient basis for the town to go to the next bidder.

And Mr. Silbermann strongly advised the selectmen against rebidding the project. Rebidding, he said, jeopardizes the town's interest-free State Revolving Fund (SRF) loan. More than likely, a rebid would result in a SRF loan rate of two per cent or more, he said.

Rebidding also means the risk of losing two $500,000 grants from the Rural Development Agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, he added.

Mr. Silbermann said he is accustomed to seeing at least eight bids for similar projects and the town only received four, leading him to believe that "not a lot of contractors are out there looking for work."

The selectmen plan to award the contractor the job after the Sept. 10 town meeting, should Tisbury residents approve the appropriation, and after they meet with the contractor to sound out the firm.

"It is in our best interest to make this work" with the contractor, said Ray LaPorte, chairman of the selectmen.

Should the town expend all of the added $2 million, taxes on the average property in town will increase by $12 a year for 20 years, according to Tim McLean, Tisbury's treasurer and tax collector.

The $8.3 million price tag on the project, a sum approved by Tisbury voters at four town meetings over a three-year period, 1990 through 1993, rose over a million dollars when the lowest bid for the wastewater treatment center came in higher than expected.

The $2 million requested takes into consideration the bid price for the treatment center and other foreseen increases for the proposed two-year project.

Of the $2 million, $500,000 is in anticipation that the bids for the second component of the sewer system, the collection system, will come in higher than the estimated $1.7 million, due in early September before the scheduled special town meeting; and $203,000 to cover a deficit based on the current sewer project budget.

For the additional five per cent project contingency, $250,000 is needed, bringing the low bid total to $5.5 million. The estimated cost with a 10 per cent project contingency fee was $4.2 million.

Included in the $2 million is the $500,000 the town expects to receive as a grant from rural development. The town needs to front the money, while waiting for the grant money to come in, in order to sign a contract for the work.

And while these sums, as recommended by Earth Tech, amount to $1.5 million, it was Mr. McLean who advised raising the number to $2 million. He said while it is unlikely the town will need to use all of the $2 million, once he drafts the article for town meeting the amount cannot be raised, only lowered.

Mr. Silbermann said it is likely the town can receive more grant money from rural development and additional loan money from SRF.

Mr. Silbermann said the price for the whole project was set back in 1993, so an increase in cost is not unusual.

Specifically, said Mr. Silbermann, "Since October, the bidding climate throughout New England has increased dramatically. We are disappointed, but not really shocked."

The selectmen's action on the wastewater project keeps the town on schedule for the installation of the sewer system along Main street; the timing of the project was set to cause the least disruption possible for downtown businesses.