Havre Daily News
Members of the North Central Montana Regional Water Authority will meet today in Great Falls to negotiate a contract with a large engineering firm.
If the agreement is finalized, Kadrmas, Lee & Jackson, which has offices in Billings, Helena and in four other states, will assist the authority with upcoming public meetings and design the nontribal portion of the proposed water system.
Havre Mayor Bob Rice said Wednesday he will attend the meeting, adding that he has some questions about the engineering costs associated with the project. City public works director Dave Peterson also will attend.
The Rocky Boy's/North Central Montana Regional Water System will bring water treated at Lake Elwell to at least 18,000 residents on Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation and in communities across the area. It has been authorized by Congress with a price tag of $229 million.
The water authority, which represents the nontribal communities that have expressed interest in joining the system, has been working with the Chippewa Cree Tribe to move the project forward. The tribe has its own engineer - Billings-based HKM - that has been working with the project since its inception more than a decade ago.
This spring, the city of Havre, along with the other cities, towns and water districts in the authority, must make a final decision about joining the system. Water authority members will attend public meetings here and in other north-central Montana communities to educate residents about it. Bear Paw Development Corp. deputy director Annmarie Robinson, who is coordinating the project, said Kadrmas, Lee & Jackson will be able to assist with that process. The firm's real work - designing the pipelines branching off the main line extending from Lake Elwell to the reservation - won't begin until much later.
“The main reason to hire them at this time (is) they will accompany the attorney and representatives of the authority when we go to each system and answer questions,” she said. “We've been waiting to get these guys on board.”
In an interview Wednesday, Rice said he's long had questions about the engineering costs for the system.
According to an interim income statement dated Jan. 3, the authority and the tribe have budgeted about $421,000 total for engineering services. According to annual financial statements, the tribe and authority spent $324,000 and $390,000, respectively, on engineering services in 2005 and 2004.
Rice said he thinks the engineering costs may be high and wonders what the money has been spent on.
“What have they done?” he said. Rice added that he's talked to other people in Havre who share his concerns.
“They have talked to me and said, ‘What the heck is going on?'” he said.
He said he hopes to get some questions answered at today's meeting in Great Falls.
Robinson and Shaud Schwarzbach, Big Sandy City Council president and a member of the authority's coordinating committee, said Wednesday that they do not believe HKM's costs have been excessive.
Both noted that questions about the cost should be directed to Rocky Boy officials, because the firm was hired by the tribe. Tribal water resources director Jim Morsette could not be reached for comment.
“I don't feel they're out of line,” Robinson said. “This is a very, very large project. There's a lot of work to do.”
Schwarzbach said the authority has looked at detailed billing statements from HKM, and has been on-site to see some of the firm's work.
“There's been quite a lot of work done behind the scenes,” he said.
Robinson said HKM is being paid with federal Bureau of Reclamation money the tribe received through an appropriation. The money was transferred to the authority, which is writing the checks to HKM, she said.
Peterson, who is one of three city representatives on the water authority - along with Rice and City Council member Gerry Veis - said today that Rice often questions engineering costs on city projects.
“He does that with contracts we have. He asks why they're so high, and makes the engineers justify their costs,” Peterson said. “That's good business practice.
“We're just now getting involved (with the project) and those are the questions he has,” Peterson added.
Peterson said he hasn't spoken with HKM personnel, but he knows that engineering work is often expensive.
“There's a lot of things that go into engineering,” Peterson said. “Most of that stuff is based on time” and other “standard” factors.
Veis said today he also has questions about the costs of engineering for the project.
According to Robinson, Schwarzbach and HKM engineer Gary Elwell, the firm has done a lot of work since it became involved with the project a decade ago.
The firm has done numerous studies, including extensive analyses to prepare for congressional approval, Elwell said. One study tested different water treatment technologies, while another analyzed various geological information gathered near the reservoir. Recent work has included the nearly completed design of the water intake at Lake Elwell.
The firm also has helped negotiate with a half-dozen power companies across the area, which will deliver energy to pump stations and other infrastructure. The project's approval called for it to use some federal power through the Western Area Power Administration, and HKM was involved in those negotiations, Elwell said.
“The authority and the tribe have been very satisfied with our work,” Elwell said, adding that the firm has completed tasks “for far less than other projects of the same type.”
On the Web: www.northcentralmontanawater.org/