From North Country Now
BY JIMMY LAWTON
OGDENSBURG – Ogdensburg City Council took a tongue lashing after accepting a $35.9 million wastewater treatment plant rehabilitation project bid from Jett Industries.
Amanda Bertram, vice president of public affairs for the Associated Builders and Contractors, called the award shameful and told city councilors they should have heeded her warnings about entering into a project labor agreement just to please Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
A Project Labor Agreement (PLA), is a pre-hire collective bargaining agreement with one or more labor organizations that establishes the terms of employment for a specific project.
The controversial agreements are often met with lawsuits from non-union labor organizations.
An engineering firm hired by the city performed a study showing that the city could save nearly $1 million by entering a PLA, however all bids received for the project came back significantly higher than the engineers for the project agreement expected with the lowest coming in $6 million over estimates.
Bertram blamed the high bids on the low pool of allowable bidders. She contested that baring non-union bidders means less competition and therefore less competitive bids.
City Manager Sarah Purdy said that information provided to her by engineers showed bids across the state have been coming in higher than engineering estimates in scenarios where PLAs are used as well as when they are not.
The city had planned to perform the project and several alternates at a cost of $35 million, but bids for that came in at more than $40 million.
For the city’s part, council was ready to move on the bids in order to avoid further fines from the DEC and Environmental Protection Agency for issues related to polluting the St. Lawrence River and safety concerns regarding the chlorine gas used at the plant.
Several councilors discussed the dangerous working conditions at the plant and said the project could be delayed no longer.
However, Bertram questioned how concerned the city council actually was, since they were set to go to bid in December of 2018, but delayed the project significantly in order to determine the feasibility of entering a PLA.
Purdy said the city is already being fined for delays in the project and that the city needed to act now.
The contract with Jett Industries sets a $35.9 million limit on the project and was approved unanimously, however the council approved the city manager to borrow as much as $49 million for the project to ensure financing is in place in case of unforeseen circumstances.
The project is expected to raise water rates from $417 annually to $700 annually in time, but it is unlikely rates will be hiked drastically in coming budget years. Purdy said the hike will likely occur gradually over time.
Despite concerns raised by Bertram, the board unanimously voted in favor of awarding the bid.