If you want to experience a sickening sense of deja vu, get a copy of New Times ( http://www.newtimesslo.com/ )for Colin Rigley's excellent story, "Consulting Waste." Morro Bay and Cayucos are joined at the hip via the Joint Powers Authority to upgrade their shared wastewater treatment plant which is located in Morro Bay. Naturally, this being a sewage project, the Usual Suspects showed up: Corrollo Engineers, Wallace Group, followed by Montgomery Watson Harza. And, as Rigley notes, "It's been five years since the two communities contracted the first consultant to begin planning for a plant upgrade project. Morro Bay and Cayucos have, as it stands, a project proposal that could be in need of a complete overhaul. Consultant fees have so far cost about $1 million in what could ultimately be a $34.3-million project -- unless it gets more expensive."
Continues Rigley, "'You hire a consultant, and they have no responsibility for the outcome,' said one local official intimate with the project.
"The consultant gig can be a cut-and-run game in which the consultant submits a proposal, then skedaddles before that proposal is put to the test.
"'This means they can do anything they want, charge anything they want, and if it doesn't work out, then you have to pay more," said Gail McPherson, a wastewater division manager from Riverside -- now acting director for Citizens for Clean Water."
Adding to the expensive pile-on, are the lobbyists whose job is to try to finesse (or "spoon feed") a project past the Coastal Commission, a tough job if the project is shaky, which this project was from day one. I mean, almost before the ink was dry on the copy of the plan, the CC was firing dangerous warning shots across the JPA's bow. The problem? Thinking they could just build a new treatment plant on the old site without looking seriously at alternative sites that would take the plant off a 100-year flood zone. Plus taking a serious look at treated wastewater reuse, a costly re-do but one that's simply going to be the prefered plan for any upgrades from now on in a water-strapped state.
And so it went, consults begetting consultants. Here's Rigley again. "If some of the names and companies working on Morro Bay's and Cayucos' project seem familiar, it's because they are. In the Los Osos project, members of the Wallace Group and Carollo -- specifically Lou Carella, who worked briefly for MWH -- sat on the panel that recently selected MWH as one of the top three firms to design and build the most recent incarnation of the Los Osos sewer project.
"In fact, [Project manager Dennis] Delzeit's contract with Mrro Bay is a joint venture with him as the project manager along with the Wallace Group. On paper, Delzeit and the Wallace Group are virtually synonymous. Every page of his contract pitch for the project management gig is labeled 'R. Dennis Delzeit & Wallace Group.'
"Delzeit was also part of a seven-member review committee that selected MWH to design the Morro Bay/Cayucos project.
"Morro Bay Capital Projects Manager, Dylan Wade, who worked for MWH until April 2007, also sat on the selection committee (wade, however, recused himself from the final state of the selection process, he said in a previous interview.)
"'It seems pretty clear that we just keep on reverting to the same firms,' said one local official.
Indeed, some of the same MWH people who designed the Los Osos project are part of the MWH team in Morro Bay and Cayucos.
"And the price tag is rising."
I'll say. Which is why Rigley concludes his article with this: "What no one wants, though, is a replay of Los Osos -- a project that has skyrocketed in cost over three decades and coutless revisions. But as it moves forward -- manned by many of the same people and companies for a project that may need to relocate -- it seems the Morro Bay/Cayucos project could be facing the same fate."
Which is why I say, get out the candles, folks, and start saying your prayers for the good folks in Morro Bay.