Auburn council delays contract for Lake Auburn study

AUBURN — Officials said Monday that they need more time to evaluate a consultant’s proposal to study the ordinances related to the protection of the Lake Auburn watershed.

The city received a single bid to conduct the study in response to a request-for-proposals issued in November, and councilors agreed Monday that staff and a workgroup tasked with creating the study’s framework should have more time to make a determination on whether to move forward or reopen the bidding process.

The study, initially proposed in August, is meant to add data to a perennial debate over watershed protections surrounding Lake Auburn, and what the current financial and environmental impacts of the rules are. The “impact study” seeks an independent analysis of the current ordinances governing the lake, and whether they should be amended.

The lone bid came from the Portland-based FB Environmental Associates, which proposes to use sub-consultants Horsley Witten Group, the University of Maine, and rbouvier consulting.

Forrest Bell, principal and senior scientist at FB Environmental Associates, told the council Monday that the assembled team of experts, “we feel addresses all the aspects of the project.”

Given the years of debate over watershed protections, the outline of the study and its core goals have been carefully scrutinized.

Mayor Jason Levesque said Monday that tabling the decision until the council’s next meeting on Jan. 19 will give staff additional time to assess the bid and address any clarifying questions with the bidders.

“Typically if you only have one respondent, you should take a little more time and make sure clarity is there,” he said.

In the bid application, Bell said the team recognizes the “political tensions and differing interests among stakeholder groups in the watershed” and said the team can serve as “an independent, third-party reviewer of all previous studies, with the infrastructure, connections, expertise, and unbiased scientific rigor afforded by our firms and university partner.”

The debate between watershed protection efforts and the potential for more recreation on the lake has been amplified over the past few years, as the district has dealt with algae, warming temperatures and other water quality questions.

Due to historically clean water at the lake, the district has received a waiver of filtration since 1991, which allows the district to treat the water with ultraviolet light and other means without having to pay to filter it.

But, as watershed protection efforts have expanded in order to protect the water quality of the lake and address increased stormwater runoff and other issues, some argue they go too far.

Levesque and others have questioned the economic impact of acquiring land for watershed protection rather than have it generating tax dollars, and have raised the question of whether the city should build a filtration plant at the lake.

On Monday, Councilor Holly Lasagna read an email from Jason Pawlina, an Auburn Water District trustee serving on the workgroup. He said he’s concerned that the applicant “does not demonstrate a full understanding of one of the key issues the RFP is seeking to have researched,” due to repeated references to the costs of added (watershed) protection.”

He said the study’s objectives never mention assessing the impact of “added protections” at the watershed.

Others who served on the workgroup, including Councilors Brian Carrier and Belinda Gerry, said they didn’t feel they’ve had enough time. Gerry said she wants “to make sure it’s the right fit.”

City Manager Phil Crowell said he’s since had discussions with Bell regarding the bid application. He said when staff met to review the bid, staff “felt (the applicant) met all the thresholds and the deliverables we were looking to accomplish.”

If ultimately awarded, the study would be paid for with $96,852 from Comprehensive Plan implementation funds.

The bid application states that as one of only 50 nonfiltered public drinking water sources in the United States, Lake Auburn is unique.

“Thus the overall approach and goal of the project are unique as well,” the application states, adding that the study would require the team’s experience in “ordinance review and drafting, alternatives analyses, environmental and economic trade-off analyses, and client/stakeholder outreach and engagement.”

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