HARWICH — As the town moves into another funding phase for the Cold Brook nitrogen attenuation project, selectmen are raising a number of questions about design, consultant funding and defining the goals of the public/private relationship with Harwich Conservation Trust.
On a split vote, selectmen Monday night approved a $119,800 agreement with consultants CDM Smith, Inc. to continue technical team participation, design review, preparation of a nitrogen monitoring plan and development of a memorandum of understanding between the town and HCT.
Board members had quite a few concerns about the agreement, however.
Selectmen Michael MacAskill wanted to know why the contract was exempt from the bid process. Town Administrator Christopher Clark said state law exempts consulting engineers from bid contracts when a relationship has been established with a trusted consultant.
CDM Smith, Inc. is the consulting firm that developed the town comprehensive wastewater management plan and is presently overseeing phase two of the plan, which includes the East Harwich sewer system construction project and the Cold Brook attenuation project.
Clark pointed out the consultants worked with the Coastal System Program from the School of Marine Science and Technology (SMAST) at UMass Dartmouth in developing the baseline assessment study for the removal of nitrogen through the attenuation process at the Bank Street Robert F. Smith Cold Brook Preserve, owned by the Harwich Conservation Trust.
“They did leg work on it and it made sense to continue,” Clark said of the new contract.
MacAskill had a number of questions about the distribution of the fund, especially relating to $86,000 for the technical team. He questioned the funding of 18 meetings of the SMAST staff and the associated costs as well as a provision for additional funding if more meetings are required. He said there is no provision for returning funds if fewer meetings are required.
He also said the project had changed, a topic which led to much discussion about design alternatives and whether it met the parameters of a town meeting vote approving $2 million for the work.
“The project hasn't really changed, it's the same as the comprehensive wastewater management plan,” David Young of CDM Smith said. “It was always made clear details would be worked out. We're trying to mesh the plan to the concept put forth. It's not original, it has morphed into a program that meets town and Harwich Conservation Trust goals.”
Looking at the bigger picture, MacAskill wanted to know who was paying for what. HCT Executive Director Michael Lach said the key stakeholders were the town, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the state Division of Ecological Restoration. Tthe Massachusetts Environmental Trust has also contributed $40,000, he added. Funding is gradually coming together to move the project forward, he said, estimating the permitting process would take between nine and 15 months.
Clark pointed out HCT's consultant, Inter-fluve,Inc., which specializes in river and wetland restoration, will shape the final design and place the project out to bid. That portion of the work will be paid by HCT, he said, but the town may have to contribute to it. With the $1.8 million remaining the town will actively participate in building the ponds and stream beds. He said the town will also be responsible for a robust monitoring program to be sure nitrogen is being removed.
Selectman Larry Ballantine said there were larger and deeper ponds initially proposed there and he wanted assurances the design would meet the nitrogen attenuation goals. He said no where is it clearly stated what those goals are. He said the contract states do the work then monitor it. “I'm skeptical we're getting to the end point.” Ballantine said.
CDM Smith is involved in the East Harwich sewering and the DHY tri-town treatment plant initiative, Selectman Donald Howell said, and questioning at what point the town should look at other consultants.
“Changing at mid-stream is not advisable at this point,” Clark said. “I'm not saying we give this to CMD Smith for 40 years.” But he supported having the consultants continue for two to three years until phase two is completed.
“I'm not suggesting we change, I just want a better definition” of the project's goals, Selectman Larry Ballantine said.
“I see no end,” MacAskill added.
Lach said HCT has three goals: enhancing the quality and diversity of wildlife habitat, enhancing water quality and enhancing visitor experience. The town's goal is enhancing nitrogen attenuation.
Selectman Ed McManus offered a motion to award the contract to CDM Smith, Inc.
Ballantine said he'd second that motion, if goals are clearly identified. Young said they would include that language in the preamble to the contract.
“How can you vote on something that hasn't happened?” asked Howell.
The board voted 3-2 to award the contract to the town's consultant. Howell and MacAskill dissented.