ISLAMORADA -- The Village Council unanimously terminated contract negotiations for construction of a $94.5 million sewer project with Veolia Water North America and engineering firm AECOM during an emergency meeting last Thursday afternoon.
The decision comes after attorneys for Veolia/AECOM changed language in the contract's appendices, opening the village up for more potential financial liability.
Councilmen focused their blame on the company's project manager, Norm Anderson.
"You broke our trust, Norm," Councilman Dave Purdo said, citing 57 changes to the contract. Purdo went on to call the changes "fraud and unethical."
Another councilman focused his questions on the project's total funding as well as the mistrust.
"If this were a marriage, you just cheated on your spouse," Don Achenberg said.
Achenberg said switching contractors this late in the game could hurt the village's reputation for future outside funding as the project continues.
"When you lose their confidence, you lose their money," he said.
Anderson described the mishap as a breakdown in communication and "a bump in the road," He told the village they could negotiate the changes and have them corrected in a couple of days.
But after three hours of emotional debate, council members passed a resolution canceling further talks with Veolia/AECOM. That was followed by a resolution opening negotiations with the other bidder for the project, Reynolds Water Islamorada. Those negotiations did not begin immediately because open records law requires the public to be notified in advance.
"Thank you for your trust in us," said Reynolds project manager Wesley Self, who put his company's executives on speaker phone to affirm to the village that the project will move forward.
With part of the project's funding coming from a $20 million state grant expiring Sept. 1, the clock is ticking for the village to access the money. If a contract with Reynolds isn't signed by then, the village could lose those funds.
Self said project headquarters for the sewer operation will be based in Jacksonville.
"Don't celebrate too much, Reynolds, we still have to negotiate," Mayor Michael Reckwerdt said. "You still have to get four votes and mine isn't going to be easy."
Council members also told Self that the grant money is based on the project being completed by its December 2015 deadline. Failure to meet that deadline would mean the village would have to pay back the money to the state.
"It better get done. It better get done on time," Purdo said.