Yesterday afternoon, Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward didn’t get the $316,600 that he requested from the Escambia Board of County Commissioners for the clean up of contaminated groundwater that has stalled the city’s Government Street stormwater project at Corrine Jones Park.
However, the commissioners did approve $200,000 towards the “dewatering” work by a 4-1 vote. Commissioner Doug Underhill cast the lone dissenting vote.
“This project is not a priority for the county,” said Underhill on “Pensacola Speaks” yesterday, just minutes after the BCC meeting adjourned. “We do have brownfields that are a risk to citizens’ livelihood and their health.”
He added, “What we end up doing in this county all too often is because we don’t have a plan, we respond to crisis, and this was brought to us saying if we don’t pony up this money right now, then we were going to have to demode the workforce, and we might lose the project.”
“We’ve got to get out of the business of responding to crisis and actually planning for and articulating to the citizens what our priorities are in this county.”
Commissioner Underhill said that documents given to him on Monday, June 20 showed that this “crisis” was created by Mayor Hayward and his staff. The backup information revealed that the city changed the scope of the work in April of 2014. Read 2016_06_20 Corinne Jones Park Sequence of Events from City.
“I’ll read it exactly: ‘4/21/14. City held an internal project kickoff meeting and decided to increase the size of the pond.’ Now, I’ll tell you just from a project manager’s point of view, if on your kickoff meeting you’re changing the scope of work, you’re probably not doing project management the right way,” said Underhill.
The original cost of the project was expected to be $2.1 million and funded by a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) grant that Mayor Hayward announced in November 2013. The city council accepted the grant in the March 2014 and agreed to pay $22,000 towards the project as its match.
The timeline in the backup document given the commissioners showed that NFWF approved the funding application on March 19, 2014. The city issued a design notice to Atkins Global on April 8, 2014. The county’s consultant overseeing the remediation of the old mosquito control facility, Cameron-Cole, concluded the contaminated plume from the closed facility would not adversely impact the Government Street pond. On April 16, 2014, Florida Department of Environmental Protection sent at letter to the County Brownfields Coordinator stating it agreed with the Cameron-Cole conclusions.
Then five days later, Mayor Hayward and his staff decided to increase the size of the pond. The county was not asked to have Cameron-Cole do a new environmental study.
The timeline showed for May-July 2014, “Atkins proceeded to develop conceptual plans in May based on the larger volume in order to ensure that contamination levels would be below allowable levels.”
When the city bid the project in May 2015, the contractors bidding raised concerns about the potential contamination, and the city added a line item for dewatering. The bids came back three times higher than the grant. Eventually, Utility Service Company of Gulf Breeze was awarded the work for $3 million in December 2015.
These issues were kept from the Pensacola City Council and the public. City Administrator Eric Olson told the council last summer that the bids came back higher than expected, but didn’t mention that the city had expanded the project. The city’s web page on the project still shows the cost to be $2.1 million.
Underhill was clearly frustrated by the lack of information coming from Pensacola City Hall.
“You might’ve found that there were better opportunities for the county to participate, maybe lower the cost,” he said. “None of that was done.”
“It’s a funny thing. It’s the difference between collaboration and cooperation. Cooperation is what you do in times of crisis; you work together to get something done. Collaboration is the work you do to lay those groundwork relationships prior to the crisis,” he added.
Underhill said, “Collaboration is what we need to be thinking about here in the community and working together from the outset of these projects, not being brought in only when it’s time to cut a check.”