After declaring the supposed water wars over between Star Valley and Payson, a civil war of sorts broke out at Tuesday’s Star Valley Council meeting.
Fears of future water disputes with Payson promoted Star Valley to reconsider an earlier decision to hire engineering firm Tetra Tech, which also does work with Payson.
Councilors entered into an hour-long debate on the issue that at times grew tense when members disagreed. In the end, the council voted to not ratify the action it took at the Dec. 15 council meeting. The council plans to revisit the issue at a later council meeting.
Some councilors decried any mention of a lawsuit with Payson while others said Tetra Tech might not fairly represent Star Valley in a court case because of its connection with Payson.
On top of lawsuit worries, the council was concerned it had violated the open meeting law at an earlier council meeting on the same topic.
The hoopla started at a Dec. 15 meeting when the council decided to drop its longtime hydrology firm Levine-Fricke Inc. (LFR) in favor of Tetra Tech, which offered a lower bid for similar data reduction services of wells and rain gauges.
However, the agendized item did not explicitly list Tetra Tech as an option, so because the public was not given proper notice that the switch could happen, the council’s vote violated Arizona’s open meeting law, said Town Attorney and Manager Tim Grier.
When Councilor Gary Coon brought this to Grier’s attention two weeks ago, Grier called the attorney general’s office for advice. Lawyers there suggested the council simply ratify the item.
Grier decided this was the best course of action and listed separate agenda items for LFR and Tetra Tech on this week’s agenda.
“I didn’t agendize it correctly,” Grier said of his mistake to the council. “You are correcting a flawed procedural mistake.”
With that, the council had the option to ratify the previous decision to not contract with LFR. It could then vote to go with Tetra Tech, as it had previously.
However, Coon said it was unfair to go with Tetra Tech and not give LFR an opportunity to properly bid on the contract. Coon explained Tetra Tech’s bid of $12,250 included monitoring 11 wells and four rain gauges. LFR’s bid of $23,500 included 15 wells and no rain gauges.
This discrepancy in the number of wells affected LFR’s price, Coon said.
“We should table this item until LFR has had an opportunity to submit a new proposal that is fair,” he said.
Councilor George Binney agreed with Coon that LFR should have a chance to rebid.
“The bid process was absolutely lacking in this,” he said.
At the Dec. 15 council meeting, Councilor and Water and Sewer Commission Chairman Vern Leis said he asked LFR to draw up a new contract for 2009-2010 that included the additional wells and several rain gauges. LFR submitted a contract with a price increase of $9,500 that was not negotiable. After receiving LFR’s quote, Leis asked other engineering firms for similar proposals. Tetra Tech was the first to respond with a $12,000 bid.
In addition to a questionable bid process, Coon said he was concerned that if the council went with Tetra Tech for hydrology services and the town ever entered into a lawsuit with Payson over water, Tetra Tech would not represent them because the firm also has ongoing projects with Payson.
Resident Chris Benjamin said he was also concerned about hiring Tetra Tech for this reason.
“I hope like heck there never is a lawsuit, but who is going to represent us when a well runs dry?” he said.
Mayor Bill Rappaport said it is unnecessary to discuss lawsuits at this time because Payson and Star Valley are working on an IGA that would resolve most water issues between the two towns.
However, Coon pointed out that during IGA negotiations, Tetra Tech would be on both sides of the table.
“I would like someone with no ties to Payson and that’s why we picked LFR to begin with.”
At a Jan. 26 meeting, Tetra Tech hydrologist Teresa Harris, assured the council that Tetra Tech does not have any contracts with Payson regarding hydrology. Because of this, Tetra Tech could represent Star Valley if needed, unbiased and fairly.
Coon said it is only fair to let LFR present a similar presentation to the council, which would also allow the company to defend itself against Tetra Tech, who made several allegations against LFR in its proposal.
Allegations by Tetra Tech Engineering Director Garrett Goldman include LFR’s “narrative analysis accompanying each well appeared to be slanted to implicate the Tower Well for all variations in the wells.”
“Tetra Tech was very critical of LFR in their proposal,” Coon said. “They want to come down here and defend themselves.”
“It would be a disgrace” if we did not allow them to come and bid, he added.
Councilor Barbara Hartwell disagreed with Coon saying LFR has been very difficult to work with over the years.
“They won’t work with us and they’ll charge us whatever they want,” she said.
“This is not true,” Coon responded. We should “give them an equal opportunity” to bid.
Leis said when he asked LFR about its bid, officials made it very clear it was set.
In addition, Leis said he did not think it was just that LFR was awarded a $14,000 contract for well services last year and has since billed the town $18,000.
Leis asked Coon, “Do you think it’s fair they went over their contract?”
Coon responded by asking Leis if he thought it was fair to have Tetra Tech bid on 10 wells and LFR 12.
“What are you hiding?” Coon asked Leis.
“Absolutely nothing, what are you hiding?” Coon said.
Binney said the council should be more careful when voting on proposals.
Star Valley residents can drop off their election ballot free at the Star Valley Town Hall, 3632 E. Highway 260 or the Gila County Recorder’s Office, 201 W. Frontier St.
If you have questions, call (928) 472-7752 or (928) 474-7139.
General plan meeting
The Star Valley General Plan Committee is holding a meeting at 6 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 23 to go over any last-minute changes to the general plan before it is submitted to the Planning and Zoning Commission. On the agenda are introductions, plan review and then review of changes that still need to be made, explained Peter Armenta, community development director with the Central Arizona Association of Governments.