PSC staff wants PSD engineering proposal nixed
The West Virginia Public Service Commission (PSC) gave the Pocahontas County Public Service District (PSD) a short deadline to submit a new engineering agreement for the design of a Snowshoe-area sewage system, and the PSC staff now recommends the agreement be rejected, "in its current form."
The PSD rejected a Thrasher Engineering plan on October 26 and solicited for an engineering firm to complete a new design. On December 9, the PSC ordered the PSD to submit a new engineering agreement no later than January 10. The PSD submitted an agreement between it and Waste Water Management, Inc., on the due date.
PSC technical and legal staffs reviewed the proposed agreement and recommended disapproval in a January 28 memorandum.
The staff's major complaints have to do with money.
Despite the short deadline, the PSC staff complains that the PSD did not coordinate with the main state funding agency.
"[T]he District seems to be acting without adequate knowledge of the formal process for review, funding and approval of public works projects in this State," the memo reads. "All projects seeking any mix of State and/or Federal funds (with limited, unusual exceptions) must be routed-through and acted-upon by the IJDC [Infrastructure and Jobs Development Council]. This process is typically accomplished by the applicant and their professional consultants preparing a preliminary engineering report (meeting IJDC requirements) and making a preliminary application with the IJDC either prior-to or, concurrent-with the preparation of the engineering services agreement."
The PSC staff criticizes the PSD for presuming it could use funds approved for the Thrasher Engineering project:
"[T]he District has presumed that the remaining proceeds from the existing $2.5 million loan may be used in support of the new project. This is not generally the case; approvals of loans are made on a project specific basis and it is difficult, at best, to transfer remaining loan funds to a new project."
When the PSD solicited for engineering services in October, the board requested "proposals for a comprehensive sewer project to include the repair of the Silver Creek plant; upgrade at the Snowshoe Village plant and construction of a decentralized plant for the valley at the base of the mountain."
The PSC staff objects to the scope of work delineated by the PSD board:
"[T]he proposed agreement establishes the scope of services in a narrow and restrictive fashion. As it now stands, the agreement provides for professional services associated with renovation of the existing treatment plants. Thus, it presumes a solution without proper study and excludes review of other
alternatives. The scope of services should be revised to provide for a complete analysis of all reasonable alternatives and it should not be limited by a presumed solution before all alternatives are subject to a thorough, objective engineering analysis."
PSC staff also notes a PSD omission to make preliminary engineering charges contingent on final funding approval.
"This places all the risk on the customers," the memo reads. "Staff notes that most engineering firms are amenable to sharing the risk on these types of projects and we would encourage the District to reopen negotiations with WWMI in order to effect revisions to the agreement which would make payment of the fees contingent upon the receipt of funding for the project."
The PSC's three commissioners will make the final decision on the PSD's proposed engineering agreement.
In addition to the setback from the PSC staff, the PSD faces a legal challenge to its abandonment of the Thrasher Engineering plan.
Snowshoe Mountain, Inc. and five Snowshoe-area landowners filed a PSC complaint in August, which seeks to compel construction of the Thrasher plan - a 1.5 million gallon per day sewage plant on Snowshoe Drive.
An evidentiary hearing in that case is scheduled for April 11, 9:30 a.m. at the PSC in Charleston. The hearing will be webcast live at www.psc.state.wv.us/webcast/ webcast420.htm.