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CQ Roll Call Report:  Ohio Legislators Rank Water Issues Fourth in 2015

According to CQ Roll Call's recently issued 50 State Project, Ohio ranked water issues number four in its list of legislative issues capturing the most attention in 2015, due in part to the contamination of Lake Erie that got widespread attention in 2014. In August 2014, more than 400,000 residents of the Toledo metropolitan area were deprived of safe drinking water as a result of toxins contaminating the area’s water supply from Lake Erie. A two-day ban on the use of drinking water was imposed when city officials identified toxins in the water supply stemming from runoff of fertilized fields and lawns, from malfunctioning septic systems and from livestock pens. Leaky septic tanks and storm water drains were a significant contributing factor in release of the toxins. Since that time, lawmakers have passed legislation to limit the spreading of manure on frozen and wet ground in northwest Ohio and curtail dumping of dredged material in the lake. But more work needs to be done, and further investments necessary, which accounts for the priority that legislators assigned water issues in the Roll Call report.

City halts big sewer project, picks fight with county Dan Horn, dhorn@enquirer.com
6:10 p.m. EST December 9, 2014
Cincinnati's biggest sewer project in decades was chugging along on schedule last week when City Hall suddenly pulled the plug.The move shocked contractors, who had begun early work on the project, and infuriated Hamilton County officials, who were blindsided by the decision. It also left in limbo a $107 million project that's supposed to clean up pollution and help revitalize one of the city's most economically depressed neighborhoods.
Emails obtained by The Enquirer show that county officials now worry the Lick Run project in South Fairmount will run over budget and miss deadlines set by regulators, which, in turn, could slam ratepayers who already are dealing with skyrocketing sewer fees. City officials say that won't happen and that they just want to reboot the contract bidding process in hopes of getting a better deal.Emails between government officials and private contractors say changing course now is a stunning and potentially costly move. They describe the city's decision as "abrupt," "disappointing" and "disturbing." They also call into question the ability of the city, which runs the sewer district, and the county, which owns it, to work together on a court-ordered, $3.2 billion sewer overhaul that includes the Lick Run project."In my assessment, the relationship is strained and becoming counterproductive," wrote City Manager Harry Black in a memo last week to City Council.A day earlier, county Commissioner Greg Hartmann was more blunt: "This relationship is broken.
"The relationship matters now more than ever because Lick Run and other costly projects are supposed to begin in the next few years. If projects are delayed because the city and county can't agree on how to build them, federal regulators could slap them with fines and drive up sewer rates even more.That's what county officials fear will happen with Lick Run, a project that had been vetted for months by a professional review committee, approved by the Metropolitan Sewer District, cleared by county commissioners and presented as recently as last week to South Fairmount residents. Work is supposed to begin in about six months and be complete by 2018.
"We just lost, at a minimum, five months on an already stressed schedule," wrote county Administrator Christian Sigman, in an email Tuesday to Black.Black told Sigman in his response that the bid approach used for Lick Run "is likely too expensive" and that starting over is the best option. "We need to further test the market and see if we can get better pricing," Black wrote.
City spokesman Rocky Merz said Black, who was traveling Tuesday and couldn't be reached, doesn't share the county's concerns about missing court-imposed deadlines for the project. "We are going to be able to meet all of the current deadlines," Merz said.
Lick Run is notable because it's the largest project to date in the $3.2 billion effort to replace, repair and improve Metropolitan Sewer District lines. It's also one of the most ambitious projects, because it would recreate an urban stream as part of a new sewer system along Queen City Avenue.The sewer district has touted the project as a way to revive South Fairmount's business district and create a park-like atmosphere along the roadside.County officials and engineers at MSD decided the best approach was to bid the work as a "construction management at risk" project, in which a project manager would be hired to help with the design and to hire subcontractors to do the work under a limited budget. If the work exceeded the $107 million maximum, the contractor would be on the hook for the cost overrun.Sigman said in his email to Black that the method made sense because the project already was well along in the design process and because capping costs would "avoid blowing the budget." Black, who came on the job in September, preferred a more traditional method of bidding the work, one in which the city bids out design work and then picks each contractor based on lowest and best bid.When the contract to hire a project manager came across Black's desk last week, he rejected it.
Emails suggest many of those involved in the Lick Run project were shocked by the decision.A selection committee of experts from the city and county already had signed off on the approach and recommended a contractor team to manage the project, Prus Construction and Ulliman-Schutte Construction. MSD's director, Tony Parrott, had signed off on it. County commissioners passed a resolution endorsing it.MSD officials had extolled the virtues of the approach in a presentation to South Fairmount residents as recently as Dec. 2. The sewer district said the approach was chosen because it would "identify and resolve risks during design, improve construction schedule and save time (and) money."
After learning of Black's decision Monday, the MSD staffer handling the project, Ali Bahar, said in an email to colleagues that the move was "a complete surprise to me."
"The purpose of the cancellation was not shared with the selection committee in advance of the cancellation notification," Bahar wrote.The contractors, who already had signed the contract that Black rejected, also got no warning. Matt Ulliman, president of Ulliman-Schutte, said his team had been working closely with MSD officials on the project "in good faith" for weeks, even though the city had not formally approved the contract."We were very shocked," he said. "It's very unusual it would happen at this stage. I've never seen it before."Ulliman's company, based outside of Dayton, Ohio, has worked with MSD for years and last year was the second largest builder of waste water treatment facilities in the United States. He said the "construction manager at risk" approach is relatively new to public works projects in Ohio, but it's common in the private sector and has been used for years on public projects in other states. He said that, even if his company hadn't won the original contract, he'd believe the approach is right for Lick Run because it caps costs and gives the contractor greater flexibility to meet deadlines. "This project is large, very complex and has tight, tight deadlines," Ulliman said. "They have to move ahead now with this delivery model or the ability to meet these deadlines is slim and none."
County officials share his concerns and weren't happy about the city's sudden change of course. "We had no idea they were thinking of doing this," Commissioner Chris Monzel said Tuesday. "We were definitely taken by surprise. It's a little crazy."Commissioners are talking with their lawyers about what to do next. One option is going back to U.S. District Court, where the county won a fight with the city this year over who gets to set MSD policy.Sigman told Black in an email Tuesday that the city is overstepping its bounds by adopting a bid policy different than the one approved by commissioners. "The city does not have the authority to change that contracting method," Sigman warned.

Water main break leads to Shaker Heights road collapse

By Patrick Cooley, Northeast Ohio Media Group

Sept 14, 2014


SHAKER HEIGHTS, Ohio – Flowing water washed away soil underneath a well-traveled roadway and caused a street to collapse Saturday night.

A water main broke underneath the intersection of Larchmere Boulevard and Kendall Road and led to the collapse, construction workers at the scene said Sunday morning.


Yellow caution tape closed off nearly a block of Larchmere Boulevard and a short stretch of Kendall Road.


Houses in the area were deprived of flowing water Saturday evening, construction workers said, and water was pumped into the main that evening to restore service to nearby homes.


The collapse left a hole in the road more than 20 feet wide and between 10 and 12 feet deep.


Several pedestrians stopped by Sunday morning to gawk at the giant hole in the road. Workers told several of them the stretch would likely remain closed Monday.