Santa Fe faces additional $1.1 million cost for fueling station

February 12, 2019

The city of Santa Fe may have to pump $1.1 million more to upgrade an aging compressed natural gas fueling station after a number of issues “not accounted for in the original proposal” surfaced in the design process.

The additional costs — a nearly 30 percent increase over the original $3.74 million price tag — sparked the ire of City Councilor Mike Harris during an intense Public Works Committee meeting Monday.

“Everything about this contract, this arrangement, is wasteful,” said Harris, a former construction manager. “I’ve looked at a lot of contracts — even for the city, this is the worst I’ve seen, quite frankly. In terms of performance, also this is the worst I’ve seen.”

Despite Harris’ push to postpone the proposed change order, the committee voted 3-1 to move it forward without a recommendation. But the committee asked representatives of the transit and environmental services divisions to return with more information before it’s considered by the full City Council.

Neither Keith Wilson, Transit Division director, nor Shirlene Sitton, Environmental Services Division director, attended Monday’s meeting. Instead, they sent two lower-level managers to appear before the committee.

“It’s unfortunate that you’re here instead of the two directors that you report to because it’s their responsibility to explain what in the hell is going on,” Harris said.

In December 2017, the governing body approved a contract with Clean Energy for the upgrade of a 31-year-old compressed natural gas fueling station on Rufina Street that services city buses and garbage trucks. The work was supposed to be finished in mid-2018.

“Through the design process, as more detailed information was obtained, two issues not accounted for in the original proposal came to light,” city documents state.

Upon further analysis, for example, some of the soils in the area of a fueling pad were determined to be structurally insufficient “to support the pad and canopy structures.” In addition, the original proposal assumed an existing detention pond would be sufficient to accommodate the additional storm water generated by the project.

But the changes related to the soil work have “resulted in changes to design of the storm water infrastructure and the need to expand the size of the detention pond.” Those and other changes led to increases in the costs for survey, contingency and redesign, bringing the total costs to $1.1 million.

Harris questioned whether the city had obtained a geotechnical report, which outlines site conditions and design and construction recommendations, beforehand.

“The company that’s contracted to do it had it, but we weren’t allowed to use it because it was a contract where it was their report,” said Thomas Martinez, the Transit Division’s director of operations. “It was written in the contract that we wouldn’t own it.”

Harris appeared incredulous, saying the city should own the report if it paid for it.

“There’s so many mistakes here,” he said. “I really don’t know where to start. I really don’t.”

City Councilor Renee Villarreal said the Public Utilities Committee talked about the proposed change order “at length” and expressed the need to make sure city contracts are written in a way to ensure the city can use such information as a geotechnical report if it pays for it.

“When we talked about it to staff, the team that made the decision is no longer there, in these departments, and so now we are moving forward,” she said. “What I thought smelled kind of fishy is that they hired the same geotechnical company to do the same work for the second time even though we couldn’t use it the first time.”

Martinez and Lawrence Garcia, project administrator in the Environmental Services Division, said the aging fueling station is affecting city operations. Garcia said the pumps are working very slowly, forcing drivers to make multiple trips to the fueling station in a day.

“We’re fortunate that the city isn’t that big so that we can go back to the station three times a day,” he said. “If it was a lot bigger, it would be questionable if we were even able to complete our routes in a day’s time.”

On Monday, he said, there were five trucks lined up at the pumps, and each one was taking up to half an hour to fuel.

“Some of the guys were there for an hour and 20 minutes,” he said.

Things could get worse if the fueling station isn’t upgraded, he said.

“Our biggest fear is if it breaks down, then nothing gets fueled and you won’t have trash trucks or buses on the streets,” Garcia said.

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.

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