Bend’s water department staff, including Tom Hickmann, engineering and infrastructure planning director, seems committed to completing the surface water improvement project exactly as proposed by HDR, regardless of cost or public opposition. It has prevented any examination of alternatives.
Normally, the staff might be justified in believing they have more knowledge than the general public when it comes to public projects. However, in this case there is widespread public opposition to the HDR project and some of the most qualified and knowledgeable people in Bend have grouped together in opposition.
The city staff has made misstatements, distributed biased information and acted irresponsibly.
Why has the staff fought so hard in light of the public’s feelings? What hold does this consulting company have on our city officials?
For example: The HDR contract was for approximately $10 million, or 15 percent, of stated project costs. The American Society of Civil Engineers Manual 45 (Compensation for Basic Services) suggests a fee for consulting services based on construction cost. Suggested fees for engineering services on a $65 million project are between 4.7 percent and 5.7 percent of the construction cost — less than $4 million.
Research by qualified experts and experience from other communities has proven that the exact same water treatment results could be achieved for less than half the cost of the HDR project.
For example: The city has repeatedly insisted that the HDR membrane treatment system is absolutely necessary. However, experience from numerous other cities facing similar regulation — and also accessing their water from forested watersheds — shows they have chosen the much less expensive UV treatment system.
When some of these cities were asked why, the cities explained UV is much cheaper and gives exactly the same results for cryptosporidium reduction as the membrane system.
When Bend established a citizens panel in late 2013 to look at the choice of treatment, the only data the panel received was from the city staff and consultants hired by the city staff. They never received meaningful and objective data on the UV alternative.
For example: Hickmann told City Council in November 2013 that there was no restriction on the value engineering review of the city’s membrane filtration system. Alan Bruckner, the former mayor, pointed out the city had, in actual fact, excluded the costly and controversial membrane filtration from any value engineering review as an “aspect of the project that the city does not want scrutinized by the team, because they represent elements … that cannot be changed … must have membrane filtration.”
Not only has the city staff sought to mislead the public, it has apparently created a culture where they rely on consultants that have been selected, directed and paid by the city staff for all answers.
• In 2012, a city consultant said it would be a good idea to buy the necessary steel for the proposed pipe at that time, even though the plans for the pipeline were not completed. The city spent several million dollars on this premature and speculative purchase.
• In early 2013, city staff prematurely, again, moved pipes into position off Skyliners Road prior to construction without required permits. When permits were denied, the pipes were removed at a significant cost.
• In 2012, Hickmann appeared before the council saying the city needed another million dollars in order to hire a consultant to monitor the consultants that were to do the construction of the new system — even though planning for the system wasn’t finished at that time.
These are just a few examples of the city staff’s behavior.
Is there anything the citizens of Bend can do to rein in this out-of-control staff between now and the upcoming council election this November?
For Bend’s future I certainly hope we can find something.
— Peter Schneider lives in Bend.