‘Price is Right’ goes wrong for controversial Southwest Sewer Realignment Project

Felciita 'Duck Pond' along new upscale housing development and sewer line project.

Toxic waste below didn’t stop this project. Bids straight out of a “Price is Right” show gone wrong sure did.

Based on the recommendation of Escondido Director of Utilities Chris McKinney, the Southwest Sewer Realignment project along Felicita Road, slated to begin this month, has gone back to the old fiscal drawing board.

Bids were wildly divergent, ranging from $6.4 million to nearly $17 million. Escondido officials listed the original high bid estimate at $6.1 million.

The project will continue, but may need additional funding and definitely a re-advertisement, according to council documents.

The controversial sewer replacement project will eliminate three sewer lift stations along a 3.4-mile stretch of Felicita Road between Via Rancho Parkway and Park Drive. It paves the way for upscale homes courtesy of New Urban West developers.

Neighbors contend that the area is a carcinogenic nightmare with levels of a toxic substance, trichloroethene, three times higher than considered safe by state environmental officials. Trenching 14 feet underground would result in striking that cancerous water swell, critics said.

The toxic waste dates to the 1980s when Chatham Brothers Barrel Yard was operating. Environmental officials closed down the operation due to storage drums leaking trichloroethene into the ground.

The 40 companies who used the facility for barrels were required to clean up 10,000 tons of debris. companies included Goodyear Tire and Rubber, Solar Turbines and several helicopter and airplane manufacturing businesses.

In fairness, last year state Department of Toxic Substances control officials said pollution levels in the creek there were so low as to be irrelevant for people. The project has passed environmental review

Neighbors contend a toxic plume runs through it.

Neighbors contend a toxic plume runs through it.

From duck pond to upscale homes

The project would employ larger sewer lines using gravity flow to transport waste. While this will save money for the city, it also would benefit another project. That’s Oak Creek Development, a 41-acre, 65-home development along Felicita Road approved earlier this year after two years through the permitting process.

Oak Creek Development just north of Felicita Park and west of Interstate 15 also sits smack dab over the toxic plume along with a small duck pond.

New Urban West, a Santa Monica-based developer is building “upscale” homes on the parcel. Homes start in the $700,000 to $800,000 range. The sewer expansion paves the way for these homes to operate off the city sewer connection in lieu of septic systems.

Oak Creek was a popular project with city leaders due to the boost in city property taxes. Escondido has the lowest property tax revenue of any North County city.

The company has developed a section of Harmony Grove homes over former egg farms along with Brookside in north Escondido and Rancho as Vistamonte in the San Pasqual Valley near the Wild Animal Park.

This summer McKinney, the utilities director, said the project would begin before the end of the year

Strange bids, indeed

McKinney said in his report to the council dated Dec. 2 that the Utilities Department had rejected all project bids and wanted the job re-advertised. He said budgeted funding was “limited. Additional funds may be required at the time of award and a budget adjustment will be prepared at the time.”

329464_1mc16housing_t837Nine companies submitted proposals. Sort of like “The Price is Right” gone wild Project estimates varied widely. GRFCO Inc. Brea and Southland Paving Inc. Escondido had bids around $6.5 million.

Utah Pacific Construction Company Murrieta came in at $10.7 million with Colich & Sons, L.P., Gardena at $12.7 million, Vido Artukovich & Sons/Vidmar Inc a JV at $13.3 million and Burtech Pipeline, Inc. Encinitas at just under $17 million.

“Due to the large range between the bids, staff will evaluate and update the project bid documents to minimize the potential risk for change orders.,” McKinney said

City Council members give themselves a raise

In other council news, congratulations to  city council members. They just gave themselves a  pay raise from $1,726 a month to $1,899 a month. That’s a 9 percent increase. Mayor Sam Abed rules the roost and as such he got a $5,359 monthly salary.

Since government code permits only a 5 percent increase, the salary raise took the form of an ordinance amending Escondido Municipal Code on the council consent agenda.