May 29, 2013

Town holds back payment as SSMP draft questioned

As published in The Erin Advocate

Erin Town Council has voted to hold back payment of the most recent invoice from consultant BM Ross, after questions were raised about possible deficiencies in their Draft Final Report on the Servicing and Settlement Master Plan (SSMP).

"Although 'holdbacks' are not a common practice with respect to consulting fees, I suggest that Council may want to be satisfied that 95% of the SSMP Report has been completed before releasing payment up to 95% of the contract," said Finance Director Sharon Marshall.

"I recommend that Council review the Terms of Reference with BM Ross representatives before any further payments are released."

Marshall has reviewed the Terms with Water Superintendent Frank Smedley, who commented on the situation at the May 15 SSMP Liaison Committee Meeting.

"There are more things that need to be done to get to the point where there's enough information to give council options, with financial numbers to back them up, where we can truthfully say yes, we feel this is definitely the best way to go for the Town of Erin," he said.

"There's a lot of work still to be done – to get to the end of Phase 2. That's the point where you can make some decisions; you either continue the process or you don't."

Council agreed to defer payment of the $30,923 (plus tax) bill for meetings with staff, council and the public, preparation of the final report and ongoing public consultation. The 2008 BM Ross contract was for $350,000 plus tax, and the Town has already paid their previous invoices totaling $303,094.

The total cost to the Town of the SSMP since 2006 has been $419,067, including payments to other engineering and hydrogeological consultants, including Triton Engineering. In addition, Credit Valley Conservation (CVC) has spent about $380,000, bringing the overall total to $799,000.

In a letter to the town, published in the May 21 council agenda, Project Manager Dale Murray of Triton Engineering Services says the BM Ross study results are "more planning oriented, and lacking technical support."

Murray has been a long-time advisor to the Town, and previously to Erin village when it studied a sewage plan in 1995. He is a member of the current Core Management Team (CMT), which he says "should have been more involved in such things as development of evaluation criteria on environmental impacts."

He recommends that after the CMT reviews all agency comments, BM Ross should do a second draft of the final report for council and public review.

He noted that the report may need to be changed to reflect comments that are still to come, from approval agencies such as the Ministry of the Environment. CVC has already demanded extra river monitoring work for the Assimilative Capacity Study within the SSMP, which will take at least until October.

"We feel that the Report needs to be more specific about what the Preferred Solutions include, as well as their impacts on the economic, social and natural environments," said Murray.

"The Terms of Reference required that the consultant work closely with the Town's Hydrogeologist (Blackport) and Watson Associates on matters related to ground/surface water impacts and development of financial plans for recommended solutions. There is no indication that that happened. These two firms have a wealth of knowledge specific to Erin and should, in our opinion, play a lead role in the Study.

"The Draft focuses on Erin [village] and Hillsburgh and is not specific about servicing of the Study area as a whole."

Matt Pearson, Project Manager for BM Ross, was given an opportunity to comment on the current developments, but he did not respond.