Members of the Lift Station 87 project team fielded questions Sept. 19, about everything from their sewage construction experience to unpleasant dog-walking experiences. It was the new engineering firm’s first community meeting regarding an oft-delayed project that residents are tired of waiting to conclude.
McKim and Creed was hired 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 last Thursday’s meeting. First, the project team presented a schedule of their work. The first phase of McKim and Creed’s work is largely information gathering, to eventually begin design and extimating costs for the completion of the project. That phase is supposed to be completed by January.
The project team then took 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 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. Garland acknowledged 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 too early to have any significant confidence in the engineering firm.
Mark Herrli, a resident on Pomelo Avenue, is less optimistic. He’s been fighting the city about Lift Station 7 for almost three decades, and detailed a laundry list of maladies that affected him because of the lift station — including power outages, property devaluation and sewage leaks.
Herrli did say the new project team said the right things. He wanted to see a departmentalization of the team so it can focus on individual areas of emphasis, which McKim and Creed indicated it would do. Still, Herrli is skeptical.
“It’ll be OK if they do what they say, but I've not seen it ever,” Herrli said. “I don't have any trust in these people.”
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.
For now, though, Dialogue Public Relations will handle inquiries surrounding the 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 the meeting.
Michelle Robinson, who will be handling public relations, said an informational website will be set up at www.liftstation87.com, 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.