MWH Contractors president John Adams may have offered a partial explanation why the engineering-contracting goliath suddenly cut and ran recently from little Los Osos: the local media. And he wasn’t referring to The Tribune, which has helped defend MWH for San Luis Obispo County.
In a March 14 email to Mayor Sullivan of Cape Coral, Florida, Adams finally, begrudgingly agreed to an audit of MWH’s accounting and billing for its work on the extensive Cape Coral Utilities Expansion Project, and at the same time chided the Mayor for statements attributed to him and others about MWH being “in trouble” for “potential criminal activity” in New Orleans and Los Osos.
Adams defended MWH’s work in Cape Coral, New Orleans and Los Osos, and blamed attacks on its business practices on the “mischaracterization of MWH’s work” in those cities by unnamed news sources:
“We understand that the characterization of our work in Los Osos, California and in New Orleans, Louisiana may be based on news articles or media reports that were later corrected due to factual inaccuracies or the lack of complete information. We want you to understand our work in those cities…”
The next day, on March 15, San Luis Obispo County Public Works’ John Waddell revealed that MWH had suddenly withdrawn from the Los Osos Wastewater Project, in part, because of the “controversy” in Los Osos surrounding its participation.
MWH’s unexpected, last-minute exit from the bidding process for the project has left the County with only one bidder on treatment, CDM, and one bidder on collection, Sundt Corp., after another short-listed contract, ARB, also hastily backed out. The loss of both MWH and ARB mark the collapse of the County’s truncated gravity-collection-only bid process, which followed the County’s aborted competitive design-build process.
The County had clearly favored Broomfield, Colo-based MWH, elevating them to the top tier of short lists for both the collection system and the treatment facility, and dismissing a documented complaint against MWH and Ogren by former LOCSD board president Lisa Schicker. Public Works Director Paavo Ogren had previously praised MWH in public without mentioning any other contracting firms, and while of late he had also minimally expressed “concerns,” MWH remained firmly entrenched in the bidding process until its stunning surprise exit.
Following is the excerpt from Adams’ statement explaining the “mischaracterization of its work in Los Osos.”
“Mischaracterization of our work in Los Osos, California”
“The community of Los Osos had a real and urgent need for a wastewater collection system and treatment facility. The California Regional Water Control Board had taken formal action to compel Los Osos to achieve compliance with regulatory requirements because groundwater quality testing consistently registered high levels of nitrates (caused by septic systems) in excess of drinking water standards. The California Regional Water Control Board expressed concern with potential health risks associated with the high nitrate levels.
“In 1999, MWH was hired by the Los Osos Community Services District to provide consulting services for its wastewater system needs. The decision to hire MWH was made by the Los Osos Community Services District Board at a Community Services meeting. As part of our work, MWH conducted community meetings for more than a year to gather feedback on the community’s needs and to ensure robust communication with the residents about the proposed project.
“The California Regional Water Control Board and the State Water Resources Control Board provided very positive feedback on our work. The California Regional Water Control Board said, “…your efforts … have resulted in a project that is not only technically, environmentally, and economically sound, but also reflects the input, values and support of the community. This is a commendable feat considering the history of wastewater issues in Los Osos.” The State Water Resources Control Board stated, “…the project recommendation was reasonable and cost estimates were justified.” The Los Osos Community Services District Board also publicly praised our work.
“There were residents of Los Osos who were not in favor of the project or the proposed location of the wastewater treatment facility. In August 2003, after the project was already underway, a Los Osos resident announced she would form a citizen’s group to block the project. In 2005, with construction already begun, a recall election of the Los Osos Community Services District Board was initiated and resulted in the replacement of three Board members. A decision was made by the newly constituted majority of the Los Osos Community Services District Board to stop construction of the project. At that time, certain The Los Osos Community Services District Board members made allegations of misconduct against MWH that were reported in the local press. These allegations were investigated and later dismissed by the San Luis Obispo County Counsel, who examined the evidence and issued a report on September 22, 2009. The County Counsel’s report stated that the contract was valid and that there were “No negative inferences justifiable” against MWH for its work. (www.slocounty.ca.gov/Assets/PW/LOWWP.htm)
“Subsequently, the State Water Resources Control Board, who had funded the project, demanded repayment by the Los Osos Community Services District, and the Regional Water Quality Control Board levied a large fine against the Los Osos Community Services District for failure to comply with water quality regulations.
“The District later filed bankruptcy and the Governor of California signed legislation giving San Luis Obispo County the authority to proceed to complete the project instead of the Los Osos Community Services District.”
Original report by Drew Winchester from the Cape Coral Daily Breeze. http://www.cape-coral-daily-breeze.com/page/content.detail/id/522948.html
Attached here is Adam’s complete email to Cape Coral Mayor Sullivan, which also offers explanations for the “mischaracterization” of MWH’s work in New Orleans as well as Los Osos: MWH President Letter to Cape Coral Mayor 3-14-11.
Bonus question: How many local Los Osos news sources writing critical articles about MWH can you name?