New York-based firm hired to work with Sarasota County staff to improve wastewater system operations and reduce incidence of accidental discharges

Commissioner Detert emphasizes import of such ‘non-glitzy’ initiatives

Commissioner Nancy Detert. File photo

As she has in the past, Sarasota County Commissioner Nancy Detert took another opportunity this week to pull an item from the board’s Consent Agenda of routine business matters to put it in a figurative spotlight.

The agenda item called for approval of a five-year agreement totaling almost $4 million with Hazen and Sawyer of New York “for consulting services for the Capacity, Management, Operation, and Maintenance (CMOM) initiation program …”

On Jan. 14, Detert asked the county’s Public Utilities Department director, Mike Mylett, to step to the podium in the Commission Chambers at the R.L. Anderson Administration Center in Venice, so he could explain the request.

CMOM — a process for which the EPA provides guidance, Mylett said — helps “utilities run their collection systems.” It focuses on operations, maintenance, expansion and rehabilitation, he continued.

“This process has been going on for two years,” Mylett added of the county’s efforts to establish a CMOM program. “It is not something that we just started,” he said, to comply with a Consent Order the County Commission approved last year with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) in response to spills from the county’s wastewater reclamation system.

The Consent Order focused on discharges from county facilities from May 19, 2018 through July 24, 2019. The last one on the list involved 448,000 gallons of raw wastewater from the Venice Gardens Water Reclamation Facility, which was discharged at the intersection of Border Road and Jacaranda Boulevard in Venice, according to documents attached to the Consent Order.

More recently — on Dec. 6, 2019 — the county notified FDEP that about 6:10 p.m. on Dec. 5, “staff responded to the report of a possible sewage spill near 2400 Martin Luther King Jr. Way. Initial investigation revealed a broken 12-inch force main. Crews were able to isolate the lift stations and repair the force main. Approximately 22,500 gallons of sewage spilled onto the ground and into a swale. Crews were able to recover 18,500 gallons of sewage from the spill. The spill did reach a nearby drainage ditch. Sampling, clean up and notifications are proceeding per protocol. Staff is working on a root cause analysis to identify the cause of the pipe failure.”

A graphic shows the location of the Bee Ridge Water Reclamation Facility. ‘AWT’ refers to County Commission plans to transform the facility into an advanced wastewater treatment plant. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The incident was declared over at 9:30 p.m., the notice said.

The affected service area, the notice added, was that of the Bee county’s Bee Ridge Water Reclamation Facility, which is located on Lorraine Road.

A Jan. 14 county staff memo, provided to the commission in advance of this week’s meeting, says the Public Utilities Department “maintains and operates approximately 760 miles of gravity sewer lines, 17,800 manholes, 700 lift stations [for its sewer system] and nine vacuum pump stations that discharge into three primary Water Reclamation Facilities (WRFs): Bee Ridge WRF, Central County WRF, and Venice Gardens WRF. To maintain its wastewater collection system and minimize the potential of sanitary sewer overflows,” the memo continues, “Sarasota County has been developing and implementing a [CMOM] program for several years.”

The memo further explains, “CMOM programs help utilities optimize the use of staffing and material resources by shifting maintenance activities from ‘reactive’ to ‘proactive,’” which leads to “operational efficiencies, lower risk and cost savings by reducing emergencyconstruction and response costs.” Further, the memo continues, “CMOM program information and documentation improvecommunications within all parts of the organization, stakeholders, the public, other municipal works andregulators.”

Mike Mylett. Photo courtesy Sarasota County

“There’s a lot of infrastructure out there,” Mylett told the commissioners, adding that much of it is aging. “And that causes problems with maintenance.”

The board’s approval of the agreement, he said, would “help set us up for the future.”

Hazen and Sawyer’s website points out that since 1951, the firm “has focused on two critical activities — helping our clients provide safe drinking water to their customers, and controlling water pollution and its effects on the environment. … Our focus also makes us home to many of the world’s most knowledgeable and experienced environmental engineers and scientists, each seeking a challenging and rewarding career while making an important contribution to the communities in which we work.”

The Jan. 14 staff memo notes that staff expects it will take several years to fully establish the CMOM program. “Should the board approve the agreement,” the memo adds, “this project will begin immediately.”

“These are not glitzy items,” Detert said of the CMOM agreement and similar issues the board addresses. “If we spend millions of dollars on a showcase item, then we all are there for the ribbon-cutting … The failing of government is to neglect water and sewer and non-glitzy items.”

Detert made the motion to approve the agreement with Hazen and Sawyer, and Commissioner Charles Hines seconded it.

The total amount to be paid to the firm — which is authorized to do business in Florida, the agreement explains — is $3,947,220. A representative of the company signed the document on Jan. 7.

Sole bidder

This is a section of the Hazen and Sawyer homepage. Image from the company website

The Jan. 14 staff memo also notes that although 60 companies viewed the solicitation for a consultant “to provide professional engineering services for developing and implementing a [CMOM] Program,” only one vendor submitted a proposal.

As a result, the memo continues, county Procurement Department staff contacted engineering firms that had looked at the solicitation but declined to bid on it. “Several firms chose not to pursue this type of project due to the project’s magnitude,” the memo says. “The firms didn’t feel they had the staffing resources that this project requires.”

The memo adds that representatives of Hazen and Sawyer “provided first-rate written qualifications and made an excellent oral presentation.”

On June 28, 2019, the memo notes, staff issued a notice recommending the award of the agreement to Hazen and Sawyer.

In the past, county commissioners have been hesitant to approve contracts when only one bidder was listed. They asked staff last year to make the effort to provide more details in such situations, so they could judge better whether to approve an agreement or ask that a project be advertised again.