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Austin Water Asking For $15.5 Million For Controversial Plant
Austin’s water utility is asking the city council to approve $15.5 million for their controversial Water Treatment Plant 4 after construction costs on the $500 million project ran higher than expected. While the utility is justifying the higher costs, some members of the council say they were never given the full story.
As Water Treatment Plant 4 continues to go up, so does the price tag: Austin Water’s now asking for $15.5 million to finish the job.
"The construction budget of 359 (million dollars) was our goal,” said Jason Hill, Austin Water spokesperson. “As we got into the project, dealing with environmental concerns and having contingency money also, that went up."
"Adequate information was not provided to council,” said Laura Morrison, Council Member Place 4. Morrison, who’s voted against the project, said she and other council members believed the construction contract council approved capped expenses at $359 million.
"Now we come to find out that it was not," said Morrison. “It goes fully up the line. It is fully the responsibility of our city management, city manager, assistant city manager to insure that the full picture is given to council in making these decisions."
"We met all the protocols that we were obligated to meet,” said Hill, in response to Morrison’s concerns. “The city council feels that they weren't adequately informed, so we are looking at that together to determine where those shortfalls have been and we will make the necessary changes."
When asked if anybody will be held accountable, Morrison responded, “I think it's a lesson learned.”
Kathie Tovo, Council Member Place 3, who was not part of council when the construction contract was voted on but also believed the $359 million was the maximum contract amount, said changes should be made moving forward.
“What are the protections that have been built into the contract to assure that the city won't incur additional costs as the project moves forward?” asked Tovo.
Both Tovo and Morrison say Thursday’s vote puts them in a tough spot.
"It sounded like if the project is to get finished, this expenditure is necessary, and so it really is an unfortunate position,” said Tovo. “I'm not sure there are many other options."
"I am not at all comfortable with approving this," said Morrison. "Having now realized that we really didn't have the fully picture, I need to find a way to get to a comfort level in this decision that we have the full picture now.”
Morrison says because the additional $15.5 million would come from revenue bonds, Austin Water customers would foot the bill in the long run.
Hill says the utility still expects the entire project to finish between one to two percent over or under budget. Water Treatment Plant 4 is scheduled for completion in 2014.
By Adam Bennett