February 22, 2019

Rockland opts to stall sewer project

ROCKLAND – The city engineer made a mistake in calculating the costs for the first phase of a combined sewer overflow project, which will delay the start of its construction.

City Engineer David Chittim apologized Wednesday to the City Council, saying he “erred and gave misinformation.” At the time, he was focused on the $4.9 million construction costs, he said, and failed to take into account the $1 million in “soft costs” for engineering and financing fees and a 5 percent contingency.

The council learned the overall cost for the first phase of separating storm water from sewer lines in the south end of the city is $5.9 million and the city only has $5.3 million.

In weighing options, the city considered the possibility of the state Department of Environmental Protection imposing a moratorium on new sewer connections for not complying with its mandate to separate storm water and reduce overflows into the harbor by fall. They also balanced the risk of losing combined grant funds totaling $600,000.

On the other hand, a delay gets the city past the November vote on the Palesky bill, which could result in seriously curbing city spending.

Councilor Brian Harden said if the Palesky tax cap is approved, the sewer project “is not going to be a priority.”

Councilors were reluctant to put off the work, especially for those residents whose roads need repaving. Some long overdue street paving has already been delayed in anticipation of the sewer work.

“What do we tell these people?” Mayor Edward Mazurek asked.

“I don’t see us saying ‘no we’re not going to do this,”‘ Councilor Tom Molloy said. “I see us treading water a little bit until we can get our finances up to speed.”

As far as the DEP mandate, City Manager Tom Hall said he hopes the state would recognize the city’s dilemma and its honest efforts.

“We’re not thumbing our nose,” he said.

After lengthy debate, the council decided to stall the project by rebidding it in December with a spring construction start. By doing so, city officials figure they will have more time to find the necessary funds.

Also during the special meeting, the council considered two options for a police management study, deciding to have the Maine Chiefs of Police Association do the job rather than a private consultant.

Councilors considered the Maine Chiefs of Police Association or consultant William F. O’Brien of Scarborough to review management of the department with an eye toward determining which qualities the city wants in a new police chief.

MCPA and O’Brien both quoted the study cost at $4,000 plus expenses.

Last week, Chief Alfred Ockenfels announced plans to retire next May after 16 years in the top position.

During the past year, the police department has been troubled with several personnel issues, including allegations of sexism and racism. An independent investigation into those complaints lodged by Lt. William Donnelly could not be proved. However, the probe did find a hostile work environment in the department.

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