Utility board member worries new company 'more of the same'

HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - The Harrison County Utility Authority considered seven companies for a three-year contract worth about $12 million. The winning company will have to manage and maintain 12 wastewater treatment facilities in the county.

The debate came down to two companies: Severn Trent based in Houston and Texas and Utility Partners which has offices in Gulfport. Each would bring different advantages according to Utility Authority Executive Director Donald Scharr.

"Utility Partners has been involved in operation of the systems for a number of years and some of the advantages are it would be a smoother transition," Scharr said.

"Severn Trent has been in this business a long time and they bring a lot of new technical expertise to the program. They bring new ideas and they have a very strong maintenance support and capital planning which I think has been a weakness with this Authority."

A review of each company's technical track record revealed some big differences.

According to reports submitted by the companies, the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality has cited Utility Partners with 29 violations over the past five years related to the four Harrison County plants it currently operates as a subcontractor.

Severn Trent, which operates 400 treatment sites in 23 states, has received only two environmental citations in the last five years.

The board didn't reveal the exact bids from the companies, but did say Utility Partners came in slightly lower.

"You have an overall price difference between two recommended contractors for the entire group that is considerably, there's a considerable difference there," said Harrison County Supervisor Kim Savant.

"If the lower price bid is the best price, that's where I want to go," said Harrison County Supervisor Marlin Ladner.

The utility director tried to point out that there is more to consider than just the dollars and cents of the contract.

"While one firm may cost you more to manage it, they save you money on chemicals and repairs," said Scharr.

Though the board didn't award the contract, members voted to negotiate a final deal with Utility Partners. That didn't sit well with D'Iberrville's representative on the board Al Gombos.

"I'm real concerned we're getting more of the same," Gombos said.

The Harrison County Utility Authority is now negotiating with Utility Partners. And the contractor could take over operations of a new three-year contract on December 31.

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