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Veolia is rejected by city panel as consultant for water efficiency study

Rejection comes two days after a City Council hearing where the company was denounced

Above: One of the dozens of settling tanks at the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant, which will be scrutinized by an efficiency study.

Two days after 100 people stood up at a City Council hearing to denounce a possible city contract with French water giant Veolia, an administrative panel today approved the bid by its sole rival.

PA Consulting was selected by the city’s Architectural and Engineering Awards Commission to negotiate the terms of a $500,000 efficiency study of Baltimore’s water and wastewater treatment plants prior to final ratification.

The panel included Rudy Chow, director of Public Works, who was subject to sharp questioning about the water contract by some Council members at the Monday hearing.

Today’s decision represents a victory for a group of community, labor and environmental activists who have coalesced around the water efficiency contract and staged protests in front of City Hall.

Erin McNally-Diaz, who testified Monday at the Council on behalf of Corporate Accountability International, expressed surprise tonight that Veolia was not selected.

She called the decision “a clear response by the city to the public concern that has been mounting for the last four months.”

Questions about need for any Consultant

One Baltimore United, a coalition of 40 community, faith and labor organizations formed this summer in response to fears that Veolia was trying to privatize Baltimore’s water system, issued a statement tonight that – in part – applauded the city’s decision.

“Given its track record of labor abuses, rate hikes and quality concerns, it is certainly a step in the right direction for Baltimore that Veolia will not be involved with the management or operation of its water system,” the statement read.

“However, it is deplorable that just two days after the community came together in City Council chambers to oppose contracting with a private firm, the DPW usurped the democratic process and moved forward with a private consultant. The city still needs to answer the questions raised at the City Council about the need for an outside consultant rather than investing in the city and developing internally.”

Young Calls for In-House Study

Throughout Monday’s two-hour-long hearing, Council members, led by President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, asked Chow why the water division couldn’t conduct its own efficiency study.

“We do have expertise within the agency,” Young insisted, to which Chow replied, “I wish I had 20 more years to rebuild the system. All we are doing is milking what our founding fathers did for us.

Chow said the Bureau of Water and Wastewater relies on consultants to design all new construction at the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant, Montebello Water Filtration Plant and other facilities that handle the city’s water and sewage.

Only two companies responded to a request by the DPW to evaluate labor practices, technology and the operational efficiency of the city’s water utilities. A major part of the evaluation would involve interviewing key personnel in the department for suggestions on how to improve the system, Chow said.

The bids by Veolia and PA Consulting were reviewed in October by five senior officials from DPW, one from the law department, one from the mayor’s office and two from Baltimore County, which uses the city’s water and sewer treatment services, according to DPW spokesman Jeffrey Raymond.

Among other criteria, the group ranked the two companies based on their experience in conducting studies of treatment plant operations and the availability of key staff.

The engineering review panel unanimously voted in favor of London-based PA consulting, Raymond said.

The consulting contract will undergo detailed negotiations with DPW before it comes before the Board of Estimates and the mayor for final approval.

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