Post 34 in a series. When Green Turns Brown is an examination of a small town’s digester-energy project, in which Whitewater, Wisconsin would import other cities’ waste, claiming that the result would be both profitable and green.
In this post, I’ll consider the Donohue firm’s first public presentation to Whitewater on a wastewater upgrade.
(Every question in this series has a unique number, assigned chronologically based on when it was asked. All the questions from When Green Turns Brown can be found in the Question Bin. Today’s questions begin with No. 186.)
186. Although this is the Donohue firm’s first public presentation to Whitewater, one knows that they have been involved by this time in the wastewater upgrade for months, by officials’ own accounts (at least as early as 11.5.13, it seems). Who picked Donohue to attend that 2013 meeting?
187. Yet, perhaps they’ve been involved even sooner. City Manager Clapper mentions at a 6.23.15 public meeting a process to find the engineering firm for this wastewater upgrade project. He says that
We started the design process with our current engineering firm in July of 2014, but we really started in 2013 with facility planning. We went through a very large process calling in several different engineering firms that are well-know throughout the state for providing municipalities with engineering services. We took a look at several different firms involved, two of our Council members and some other professionals in the realm of city government and managing city government and public works to be evaluating these firms before we even got to the one we have now. Then we got Donohue and Associates. We selected Donohue to be our, to be the firm that we use, and then that was still, gosh I want to say middle of fall of 2013 maybe when we got started with that. [Off camera, ‘yes.’]
When did a Whitewater official first meet with Donohue?
188. By City Manager Clapper’s own account, several engineering firms were involved in “facility planning.” Wasn’t Donohue one of those firms?
189. If Donohue was involved in facility planning for months (perhaps nine or more) before being selected as the city’s firm in July 2014, didn’t the firm have a role in shaping the very planning that led to its selection?
190. Who are the “other professionals in the realm of city government and managing city government and public works” who attended or played a role in facility planning in 2013, 2014?
191. Which two Common Council members were involved in this “facility planning” process?
192. How many meetings were held for facility planning, with which attendees? How many times was Donohue part of those meetings? (Later in this 6.17.14 presentation, there’s a statement that Donohue was involved in at least 40 hours of meetings.)
193. If waste-importation were not important to the overall project, then why would a (as yet unnamed) waste-hauler have been one of the participants at an 11.5.13 meeting with Wastewater Superintendent Reel and others?
194. Where’s Trane? Wastewater Superintendent Reel mentions on 5.20.14, less than a month before this presentation from Donohue, that he and others had meetings with Trane in May (on 5.20.14, in fact, for market surveys, etc.).
195. Donohue is the only firm at the 6.17.14 presentation. Why was there no second proposal – that is, why only Donohue?
196. How is this a genuinely competitive process between firms, with only one firm presenting (and whose plan is adopted a month later with no intervening, competitive public presentations)?
197. Donohue project manager Mike Gerbitz, PE, says that he has been working with city staff for five or six months, but that this is his first public presentation, on an $18.6 million-dollar project. He tells Council that he will probably present again in July. This presentation is less than a hour, with Gerbitz doing almost all the speaking. What level of elected, political oversight does that represent?
198. Gerbitz says that he met with some staff and some councilmembers at his firm’s interview. When was that, who else was there, and what notes did public officials take, if any?
199. On waste processing, generally: Do Gerbitz, the Donohue firm, or municipal officials think that state requirements for processing waste represent a floor or a ceiling for the proper standard of care?
200. Gerbitz’s slide presentation shows a Chevy Cavalier from 1982 to illustrate how technologies change, and so (by his implication) technology upgrades are necessary. Fair enough, but how is this plant like a Cavalier (as against, say, an asphalt road or a suspension bridge from generations ago?).
201. Gerbitz contends that the value of the existing plant is $60 million dollars, measured as a replacement cost. By his own account, much of the plant does not need to be replaced, so why mention the claimed $60 million-dollar value? Isn’t the mentioning a large figure that will never be needed simply a technique to make the existing expenditure of $18.6 million look more reasonable?
202. Gerbitz observes that even M&M candies or chocolate milk in large quantities without processing would harm a water supply. Will what’s actually processed in the plant be more, or less, harmful than M&M candies or chocolate milk?
203. If the goal is processing waste, why is Donohue (at this stage) by its own admission not addressing the digester?
204. Gerbitz says that a working digester is analogous to a human stomach’s digestion. How clean does he think that is?
Tomorrow: The Donohue Firm’s Second Presentation of 7.15.14.
WHEN GREEN TURNS BROWN: Mondays @ 10 AM, here on FREE WHITEWATER.
it’s powerful just to ask questions like this. these are simple questions that people making these decisions would rather not have to answer.you’ll learn all kinds of surprising things before you are done.