ISLAMORADA -- Brushing aside a push from Councilman Dave Purdo, the Village Council has decided to continue to use the engineering firm Wade Trim to watch over contractor Layne's work on the $99 million Islamorada sewer project.
"To date, things are going pretty well," Vice Mayor Ted Blackburn said at a council workshop on Oct. 9. "We're under budget and ahead of schedule."
Beginning in August, Purdo has been calling for the removal of Wade Trim, which has billed the village $3 million for its engineering consulting work since May 2012. Wade Trim's total estimated budget for the project is $9.5 million, or nearly 10 percent of project cost.
Purdo has argued that the figure is well above the industry standard of 5 percent for watchdog duties.
"Outrageous," he called the billing last week. He has said the engineering oversight work should be put out for a competitive bid.
But after nearly two months of relative silence on the matter, Wade Trim's Tom Brzezinski made his own case at last Wednesday's workshop.
His firm, he reported, is running approximately 15 percent under budget. More importantly, the services it is providing Islamorada go far beyond construction management duties, such as inspections of the sewer pipes and vacuum connections, for which the 5 percent standard applies.
Wade Trim, Brzezinski said, is also providing oversight of the sewer design work Layne, known locally as Reynolds Water Islamorada, is doing on the Islamorada project. Further, the company has continued with some of its design work in middle Plantation Key.
In addition, Wade Trim is undertaking owners' representative services, such as providing permitting assistance and monthly progress reports at public meetings. And it is negotiating with Layne on change orders to the contract.
When all of the company's various duties are included, and because the company is 15 percent under budget, Brzezinski said, the estimated bills add up to 8.9 percent of the project cost. That's on a par with what Marathon and Key Largo spent for similar services on their sewer projects, he said.
Brzezinski added that when only construction management is factored, Wade Trim's bills are 4.8 percent of project cost. That's nearly identical to the percentage the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority is charging Monroe County for the Cudjoe Key sewer project.
Purdo has commonly cited the $7 million the county is paying FKAA for the $141 million project to illustrate that the village is paying Wade Trim too much.
In an email to the Free Press after last week's village workshop, FKAA engineer Tom Walker wrote that the work his utility is doing for 5 percent of the Cudjoe Key project costs includes not just the tasks Wade Trim classified as construction management, but all but two of the other tasks that Wade Trim is doing for nearly 9 percent of village project costs.
In addition, Walker said, the FKAA is providing numerous services on the Cudjoe project that Wade Trim didn't list as tasks it is doing for the village.
"Level of effort comparisons is difficult since many things can be more time consuming on one job versus another," Walker cautioned.
At the workshop, Purdo suggested that Brzezinski's presentation featured some fancy math.
Blackburn and the remainder of the Village Council, however, were far less dubious.
"We're in line. We're doing OK," Blackburn said.
By a 4-1 vote the council decided against putting the engineering consulting services out to bid, but Purdo's colleagues did credit him for initiating the review of Wade Trim's work. They called for thorough quarterly reports from the consulting firm going forward.
Also at last week's workshop, the council once again committed to paving all roadways in Islamorada once sewer installation is complete, including the 22 that are privately owned.
The village's $8.25 million paving contract with Layne always included the private roads, but the town was unsure if it could use gas tax dollars to pay for private road paving jobs, as the town plans to do on public roads.
To deal with the legal quandary, the village will instead pay for the $1.35 million private paving through assessment dollars, Finance Director Maria Aguilar said. Doing so will add approximately $1.35 per month to sewer rates.
Finally at the workshop, the council instructed Brzezinski to negotiate with Layne on a price to install and maintain grinder pumps on the approximately 500 residential properties in the village that will need them.
The village estimates the pumps will cost $3.25 million to install and $60,000 a year to maintain.
If Layne doesn't offer a good deal, council members said they'll bid out the work.
At this point, the council hasn't instructed Wade Trim to include condominiums and commercial properties that are slated for grinder pumps in the negotiations with Layne. But the pumps on those properties too must be centrally managed, the DEP's Terry Cerullo said in an email to the Free Press last week.
The village hasn't provided the Free Press with figures on how many condos and commercial properties will be using grinder pumps.
The town also has not specified that it will purchase grinder pumps for those properties and pay for the maintenance, as it has with residential grinder pump locations.