ISLAMORADA -- Spurred on by the emphatic argument of Councilman Dave Purdo, the Village Council will hold a workshop next month to review the billing practices of sewer project engineering consultant Wade Trim and to decide whether to alter the town's relationship with the firm.
"I think that's a great idea, to look at the billings and make sure there's added value," Vice Mayor Ted Blackburn said at the Sept. 12 council meeting.
Over the first 13 months of the work authorization under which Wade Trim monitors and watchdogs the $99 million sewer construction job being undertaken by the contractor Layne, the engineering firm billed the village $2.8 million. The authorization began last May, some six months before sewer work began.
Through June of this year, Wade Trim, along with Weiler Engineering and other subcontractors, invoiced the village between $222,000 and $353,000 monthly, records show.
During his presentation last week, Purdo argued that those costs are simply too high and that the village, which does not have a staff engineer, has no one who is qualified to watch the watchdog.
"We're paying the highest amount that is available to be paid," he said.
Purdo referenced the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority which, Executive Director Kirk Zuelch later told the Free Press, is being paid approximately $7 million to do engineering watchdog work for Monroe County's $150 million Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System.
That's less than 5 percent of the project cost. With the village's project still more than two years away from scheduled completion, Purdo estimated that Wade Trim's price is on track to be between $9 million and $11 million, or around 10 percent of the project cost. Some examples of the costs, according to numbers compiled by Purdo:
• Between last October and this June, Wade Trim and subcontractor Meridian Service Group billed the village $114,000 to process the payment requests of Layne, which is known locally as Reynolds Water Islamorada.
• From last November through this June, Wade Trim and Weiler billed the village $175,000 for assistance with permitting.
• From last September through this June, Weiler and Wade Trim billed the village $288,000 for design review.
The Free Press was not able to independently confirm Purdo's line-item figures prior to press time, and the village had not responded to the newspaper's records request made late last Thursday for the line-item bills.
However, Wade Trim's Tom Brzezinski didn't dispute the figures at last Thursday's meeting or during a subsequent Free Press phone interview.
"I just want to make it clear that we are within the industry standards," he told the council at the meeting, countering one of Purdo's charges. In response to another question posed by Purdo, he said Weiler and Wade Trim do not perform redundant work.
"We are not double charging," Brzezinski said.
Asked the following day to explain the charges for permitting assistance and for processing Layne's payment, Brzezinski declined to respond.
"I was ready to discuss it last night," he told the Free Press. "Council asked that we have a workshop that would provide enough time for everyone to look at the details, and I want to respect the process that council set up."
Though the council members readily agreed to hold a workshop about the engineering costs, they didn't join Purdo in criticizing Wade Trim or Wastewater Program Manager Greg Tindle.
They were, however, critical of Purdo for not sharing the figures he has compiled on the company's billing ahead of the meeting, in addition to not sharing the list of questions he had prepared.
"You shouldn't be holding onto these," Councilman Mike Forster said. "You should be giving them to everybody in a legal way, so we can look at them and we become skeptics too."
Members of the scant audience that still remained at the meeting when Purdo made his case raised broader questions.
"Why are we paying this much money when we already have an expensive project?" Plantation Key resident David Guardino asked.
He was one of three people who commented on the issue, all sympathetic to Purdo's argument. The workshop to discuss Wade Trim is scheduled for Oct. 9.
In other action last week, council members approved the construction of 5-foot bicycle lanes on both sides of Royal Poinciana Boulevard in Plantation Key Colony. However, they decided against lanes on Sunshine Boulevard in the Kahiki Harbor neighborhood and Seminole Boulevard in middle Plantation Key's Indian Waterways.
Building the Royal Poinciana lanes will cost $88,000. Lanes on all three roadways would have cost $300,000. The work will be done in conjunction with road paving that Layne is doing after sewer work in Plantation Key Colony.
Forster took the lead in pushing for lanes only on Royal Poinciana. He argued that residents of the other two neighborhoods hadn't showed up at council meetings to request the bike paths and that among the three neighborhoods only Plantation Key Colony isn't served by a school bus.
The remainder of the council went along with Foster's recommendation.