Friday, August 29, 2008

Most aldermen see no reason to celebrate TWICE

Absent aldermen see no need to celebrate ‘overbudget’ project
BY MARSHA L. MELNICHAK Northwest Arkansas Times
Posted on Friday, August 29, 2008
Only one of Fayetteville’s eight City Council members attended the grand opening of the West Side Wastewater Treatment Plant Thursday, although all their names are on the engraved plaque by the office doors.
Some who didn’t attend said it was because of the project’s cost overruns and time delays.
Brenda Thiel, Ward 1, listened to the shared accolades and added her own at the grand opening.
“ I’m just really excited for this day. I think this is a fantastic facility, and it’s been a long time coming. I certainly wanted to be here for this great day, ” Thiel said.
Her ward mate, Adella Gray, also had good things to say about the plant.
“ I’m very excited about that plant, and I just think it’s a showplace for Northwest Arkansas, ” said Gray, who is in Denver for the Democratic National Convention.
Ward 2 council members, Nancy Allen and Kyle Cook, were not as exuberant in their praise for the plant.
“ It was a long road, ” said Cook, who could not attend because of his work.
“ I think the delays and extra costs are a bummer. That’s a little frustrating; but once we got a grasp of it, everything went pretty good, ” Cook said. “ Getting to that starting point was incredibly frustrating. ”
Allen could have attended but chose not to do so.
“ I didn’t attend the ceremony because, while I’m pleased the plant is open, a $ 63-million overrun plus a sewer rate increase in the near future didn’t seem worthy of celebration, ” Allen said.
When voters approved a. 75-cent sales tax increase to repay up to $ 125 million in bonds in 2001, they expected the project to be completed in 2005 at a cost of about $ 120 million.
The Wastewater System Improvement Project was described as a $ 186. 5 million project in a handout at Thursday’s event, about $ 60 million above early estimates.
The new $ 63-million West Side Wastewater Treatment Plant is one part of the overall project.
Mayor Dan Coody, who is running for a third term as mayor, has repeatedly argued that the first estimates were just estimates, not bids and that once management of the project came “ in house ” and bids were taken, the project stayed on track for time and money.
Ward 4 Alderman and mayoral candidate Lioneld Jordan is not convinced.
“ First of all, I’m glad that the project has gotten complete, and I’m glad it’s up and running for the citizens. And I’m glad it’s at last finished. However, it’s difficult for me to come out and celebrate a ribbon-cutting when something is three years late and $ 60 million over, ” said Jordan.
“ I know the line has been, ‘ Since the city took it over. ’ Well, I thought the city was in charge of it to begin with, ” said Jordan.
He added, “ We’re not on budget, and we’re not on time. We’re three years late and $ 60 million over, and there’s no other way around that. I find it difficult to go out and cut a ribbon and say everything’s ‘ hunky-dory ’ when it’s not. ”
Shirley Lucas, Ward 4, said she didn’t attend because she went to the ribbon-cutting.
“ I just kind of thought this was probably a photo op session for the mayor since he’s running for re-election and that was his show, ” said Lucas, who was getting her home ready for company during the grand opening.
“ I thought they don’t need me for another ribbon-cutting out there; I cut the first time, ” she said.
Bobby Ferrell, Ward 3, also didn’t attend the grand opening. He said he’d been to enough “ final” celebrations.
“ I don’t think we ought to be spending staff time and money on continuing celebrations of an overbudget, overdue plant. Where we ought to be focusing right now today, I mean today in caps, is on the problems we are confronted with on hauling off our biowaste. ” He was referring to the recent, unexpected notification from an Oklahoma landfill that it would immediately stop receiving the city’s biosolid waste, which is produced during the wastewater treatment process.
Ward 3 ’s Robert Rhoads did not reply to a request for comment.
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