Council votes to pay an additional $54K to engineering firm for wastewater project compensation

Published 9:32 am Monday, July 1, 2019

LAPLACE — All Oscar Boudreaux was asking for was what he believed was owed to him by St. John the Baptist Parish government for engineering services provided.

Boudreaux, the owner of Environmental Engineering Services, Inc., based in LaPlace, has been working with the parish on the Wastewater Retention Pond Conversion to Wastewater Oxidation Treatment Pond Project since 2014. As the project nears completion, the final tally for his services has been hotly debated by some council members, pitting them against President Natalie Robottom.

The amount in dispute is approximately $54,000 and is based on the difference between the $7.9 million base bid submitted in 2014 and the actual $8.2 million bid that was accepted, which included an alternate option exceeding $200,000.

The base bid and the alternate option, which called for using concrete along levee slopes, were accepted and approved by the council, the majority of whom are still current members. However, because of unexpected costs in other areas of the project, limestone was instead used on the slopes.

And therein was the confusion. Councilman Larry Snyder has repeatedly disputed the additional $54,000, leading the item to be tabled during past meetings.

“The question has not been answered as far as I’m concerned,” Snyder said during a council meeting this past Tuesday night. “(The District Attorney’s office) is still not clear on what was being amended to pay the extra amount.”

Snyder insisted the engineering fees should be based on the $7.9 million base bid and not the final $8.2 million total.

Robottom repeatedly attempted to explain to Snyder that the final cost of the project was approximately $8.2 million, which would explain the additional $54,137.61. In great detail, Robottom explained to Snyder that even though the alternate option was altered from its original design, specifically limestone was used rather than concrete, the fact remained the Environmental’s fee was based on $8.2 million.

In fact, Boudreaux told council members he completed the engineering work based on the original plan of using concrete for the slopes, and those are the services he should be compensated for, even though the scope of the work had changed.

“The fee is based on the contract amount,” Robottom explained on several occasions.

“According to the ordinance you adopted (in 2005), he is entitled what he is asking for. We worked with him to come up with the amount that is agreeable to both parties.

“(The fees) were not based on the scope of the work but on the amount. That includes the alternate.”

Robottom said the primary reason the base bid exceeded the original estimate unexpected difficulties with sludge. Also, an attempt was made to save the existing pumps as part of the project but they were discovered to be in such poor condition that a decision was made to purchase new pumps.

Boudreaux pointed out that the change order percentage for the entire project was 0.8 percent, which is quite low for such a costly project. He added that if the pumps had been salvageable, the change percent would have been in the negative.

“This is one of the best projects (ever) put together in St. John the Baptist Parish,” he said. “I did all of the engineering on it. How do I get compensated?

“Since February I’ve been working for you for nothing. I am paying to work for you.”

“I honored my contract,” he added, his voice rising. “I expect you to honor yours.”

Snyder was unmoved, insisting and that council members “did not have all of the details” of the project.

However, what appeared to catch Snyder and some other council members by surprise was the 2005 ordinance that sets the engineering fees. Approved on a 6-0 vote on April 26, 2005, Ordinance 05-16 explicitly sets a curve for basic engineering services on a construction project, which is what the wasterwater project fell under, and a separate table for resident project representation services.

For projects at $5 million, the fee is 6.67 percent of the total construction cost, and anything over that can be negotiated accordingly.

The council, after a debate that last exactly one hour, approved the amendment to pay Environmental the additional $54,000, with Snyder and Councilman Larry Sorapuru voting in opposition.

— By Richard Meek, contributing writer