If at First You Don't Succeed, Get Hired by the City Again

Consultants Hazen and Sawyer oversaw one the biggest utility failures in Fort Lauderdale history. So why does the city keep hiring them?

Meeting minutes from 1990 and 1991 reveal that commissioners -- mainly Naugle and Carlton Moore, the only two commissioners from that time still in office today -- were frustrated that the plant wasn't functional and angry about having to pour more tax dollars into making it work. At the time Moore wanted to sue Hazen and Sawyer because "their errors were costing the city money." He wanted to fire the firm a full seven months before the ties were finally severed in July 1991.

Moore's anger dissolved somewhere between 1990 and 1995, however, when he suggested giving the firm a plaque for its $5000 donation that paid for youth programs at two city parks. The firm also donated at least $2500 to the Broward League of Cities for its ceremony to induct new officers, being held this Saturday at Pier 66. Moore is being ushered in as the League's new president.

Moore says he doesn't remember being upset with Hazen and Sawyer, but he doesn't dispute his comments. He says he now supports the firm because the city's selection committee chose them.

"They were ranked number one, it's as simple as that," Moore says.
Commissioners and the members of the city's selection committee didn't discuss previous Hazen and Sawyer wastewater projects or even the city's failed compost plant, in any detail before voting 4-1 to make Hazen and Sawyer the city's latest general engineering consultant for water services. Naugle opposed them.

All four commissioners who voted for the firm say they were honoring the city's selection process -- a panel of two citizens and three city utility employees had spent hours reading proposals, listening to presentations, and discussing five firms before recommending Hazen and Sawyer to commissioners. In addition, the firm has 30 years of engineering experience in South Florida.

"They are a highly reputable, competent engineering firm that went through the competitive process and were ranked number one," Vice Mayor John Aurelius says. "I saw no substantiating documents to support anything the Mayor was claiming."

The contract with Hazen and Sawyer for water services awaits only legal review and final signatures. It requires the firm to oversee and advise the city in applying for permits and grants, in meeting federal guidelines under the Safe Drinking Water Act, in reviewing the annual budget, and in serving as an expert witness if necessary. For all that, the firm will be paid about $1 million over the next five years.

As the city's wastewater consultant from 1977 through 1991, the firm oversaw $100 million in construction projects and expansion of the city's sewage system, including the failed compost plant, Kisela says. The firm was paid more than $7 million for those services.

Davis denies his firm was responsible for any of the mishaps Naugle blames on it and says he was shocked to hear Naugle get so angry about the firm. The city took the risk in building an untested system, he says, because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency offered generous grants toward construction of plants using new technology. If state environmental rules had outlawed the spreading of sludge on farmland, as the city thought would happen, Davis says the city would have found a way to make the plant work. But the spreading of sludge wasn't outlawed, and because that method was cheaper than running a compost plant, the city simply abandoned the project, Davis claims. "You could say that everyone involved -- our firm, PURAC, the contractor, the city, none of us could foresee the future," Davis adds.

Kisela, who worked with Hazen and Sawyer on the Port St. Lucie sewage plant, says he knew recommending the firm for the million-dollar water contract would cause some political tremors, "But I can't prostitute my principles and overrule my selection committee. Why are they going to select a consultant that's going to do a bad job? Just to stick our finger in Jim's eye and make him mad?"

No need. Jim's mad enough. All he has to do is look at the plant still standing east of State Road 7 and south of State Road 84.

"We should bronze it and use it as a monument to what happens when you spend millions of dollars on bad advice," he says. "We got burned before, and I fear we'll get burned again.

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