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Firm in line for $7.2 million MMSD contract didn't show qualifications

Competing bidder also questions quality of low bid.

March 11, 2014
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By Don Behm of the Journal Sentinel

March 11, 2014 0

The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District moved ahead this week with plans to award a $7.2 million sewer lining contract to a Madison company though the business had not documented that it could meet the district's installation experience requirements for the job.

Terra Engineering & Construction Corp. of Madison is the apparent low bidder for a contract to clean and line the inside of nearly two miles of a 36-inch-diameter regional sewer serving western Wauwatosa, Elm Grove and Brookfield.

The company would be paid its bid price of $7.2 million to rehabilitate a 10,400-foot section of iron pipe known as the Underwood Creek force main, under a proposed contract approved Monday by the operations committee of the district's commission. The full commission will act on the proposal at a March 24 meeting.

After a competitor and a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter questioned Terra's lack of documentation regarding experience with its preferred lining product, Terra officials scrambled Tuesday to come up with a list of projects.

The list emailed to MMSD Tuesday afternoon does not include dates for several lining projects, but it meets the district's documentation needs, technical services director Mike Martin said.

A force main is a sewer that is drained under pressure, not gravity.

After two leaks of corroded pipe sections in the Underwood Creek force main, one in October 2007 and the other in June 2009, district staff and consultants recommended installing a lining. This force main was built in 1983 as part of the district's $3 billion water pollution abatement program that included construction of the deep tunnel system and expansion of two sewage treatment plants.

Following each leak, an analysis determined that a protective polyethylene wrap on the outside of the pipe either had been improperly applied or damaged during sewer construction. The bottom of the pipe was exposed to certain bacteria in soil that resulted in the corrosion.

In the proposed sewer rehabilitation project, there is a $2.8 million gap between Terra's bid and the next lowest price of $10 million submitted by Michels Pipe Services, a division of Michels Corp. of Brownsville.

Competitor questions bid

Pat Herzog, vice president of Michels Pipe Services, asked MMSD to reject Terra's bid, saying the company did not fully comply with contract requirements.

In a March 5 letter to the district, Herzog said Terra's proposed use of a fiberglass reinforced sewer liner rather than the felt liner product specified in contract documents should have disqualified that company's bid.

MMSD Executive Director Kevin Shafer responded in a March 7 letter to Herzog that contract documents required bidders to use a specific felt liner product "or equal." A district consultant had evaluated the other liner material and concluded it qualifies as an equal product, Shafer said.

Herzog, in the letter, notifies the district of other potential problems with Terra's bid.

"It is our understanding Terra has not previously installed nor were they a licensed installer of the proposed Multiliner system until they turned in their bid for the project," Herzog says. Terra's bid indicates it will purchase the product from Pacific Multilining Inc. of Abbotsford, British Columbia.

But installation experience was required under contract specifications listed in documents provided to potential bidders. Contractors needed a minimum of two years' worth of experience installing their proposed liner systems, and were asked to submit a list of at least five projects in the United States in which they installed a combined total of 10,000 feet or more of the liner in the last five years.

The contractor was asked to document the installation of a minimum of 3,000 feet of the liner in 36-inch or larger pipes, and the installation of a least 5,000 feet of the liner in pressurized pipes.

Shafer's March 7 letter indicates Terra did not provide the documentation with its bid. In response to Herzog's complaint, Shafer says in his letter that Terra will be required to document experience with the proposed liner system. No documentation was given to the operations committee at its meeting Monday.

District officials said Tuesday that Terra representatives assured them in a Feb. 26 telephone call that the two companies together could meet all experience requirements. Terra's list arrived later Tuesday, a day after the committee meeting.

Terra installed 7,300 feet of the liner in pressurized sewers in Stevens Point in 2009, and Pacific Multilining installed the liner in sewers larger than 36 inches in San Francisco and Los Angeles, according to the list of projects. No dates were given for the work in California.

The Underwood Creek force main was built as a relief sewer to carry flows from the Underwood Creek Pump Station west of the intersection of W. Underwood Parkway and W. Potter Road. The pump station operates only in wet weather to reduce flows in the west end of the larger Underwood Creek metropolitan interceptor sewer.

The force main carries up to 34 million gallons a day of wastewater, a combination of storm water and sewage, during heavy rains.

Twitter: twitter.com/conserve

Don Behm thumbnail
About Don Behm

Don Behm reports on Milwaukee County government, Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, the environment and communities in southeastern Wisconsin. He has won reporting awards for investigations of Great Lakes water pollution, Milwaukee's cryptosporidiosis outbreak, and the deaths of three sewer construction workers in a Menomonee Valley methane explosion.

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