Members of the Lift Station 87 project team fielded questions about everything from their sewage construction experience to unpleasant dog-walking experiences Thursday night, as the new engineering firm held its first community meeting regarding the oft-delayed project.
The city hired McKim and Creed in August to assume engineering work at Lift Station 87. The city fired the previous engineering team for an inability to complete microtunneling efforts under the Hudson Bayou, but McKim and Creed believes poor communication with residents was another major failing of its predecessor.
That’s what led to Thursday’s meeting, at which the project team first went over the history of the construction and the schedule of its work. The first phase of McKim and Creed’s work is largely information gathering, to eventually produce cost estimates and begin design for completion of the project. That phase is supposed to be completed by January.
The project team then fielded questions from the community. Many of the speakers lived near Luke Wood Park, the site of Lift Station 87. Several others lived near Lift Station 7, located near the Hudson Bayou on Pomelo Avenue. Lift Station 7 has experienced several leaks and was originally supposed to be decommissioned in 2011, but will remain active until Lift Station No. 87 is completed.
Donna Gannon Coe, a resident near Lift Station No. 87, underscored in her question the lack of faith many people have in a process that has repeatedly broken down.
“You mentioned the previous engineering company was unable to resolve issues,” Gannon Coe said. “What confidence do we have in you as a company to be able to resolve those same issues and any mistakes they may have made?”
Robert Garland, vice president at McKim and Creed and the manager of the Lift Station 87 project, assured Gannon Coe that the team was selected via a competitive process based on its qualifications. A follow-up question from Gannon Coe prompted Garland to acknowledge the previous engineering firm went through the same selection process.
Still, Gannon Coe said the community meeting was an encouraging sign — though it’s still to early to have any significant confidence in the engineering firm.
"They come across as very professional and competent,” Gannon Coe said. “Hopefully, it'll work out."
McKim and Creed budgeted about $125,000 for public relations in its $1.1 million contract with the city. It’s a move that ended up causing its own controversy, to the point that City Commissioner Susan Chapman suggested retracting that funding if it continues to draw ire from the residents who were supposed to benefit from public-relations efforts.
For now, though, Dialogue Public Relations will help handle inquiries and issues surrounding the lift station project. Biweekly project team meetings are open to the public, though another community meeting won’t be held until December or January, according to a packet distributed at Thursday’s meeting.
Michelle Robinson, who will be handling public relations, said a website will be set up at www.liftstation87.com for information regarding the project, though it’s not active at the moment. A phone line has been dedicated specifically to the project; residents interested in speaking with somebody regarding the lift station work can call (941) 356-8071.
Contact David Conway at [email protected].