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Accountabilityby Mark Reutter2:13 pmFeb 2, 20120

Leaky faucet: Board of Estimates approves another water EWO

Spiniello has been awarded more than 80 extra work orders that have added $19 million to city water contracts

Above: Spiniello’s regional office on East Biddle Street is a busy place.

The drip, drip, drip of EWOs (extra work orders) continued yesterday with the Board of Estimates’ approval of $442,858.01 in cost overruns for a wastewater project in north Baltimore.

The panel awarded the fifth EWO on “Improvements to Herring Run Interceptors, Phase II,” as part of its routine agenda without discussion.

Last week, The Brew wrote about the board’s approval of nearly 100 EWOs on a water contract to J. Fletcher Creamer & Son for “urgent need work” that increased the original bid price by 56%.

This latest award involves repairs by Spiniello Co. to a sewer line that traces Herring Run and lays on the streambed in some sections, carrying wastewater from Baltimore county and city to the Back River treatment plant.

The city and county have so far spent $7 million to upgrade the network of pipes and manholes between Argonne Drive and the county-city border to stop the overflow of sewage during storm surges.

The city is under a consent decree with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to end spills into waterways that flow into the Chesapeake Bay. In February 2003, 35 million gallons of untreated sewage flooded into Herring Run after a storm.

Contract Swells by 76%

New Jersey-based Spiniello is such a prolific contractor for Baltimore’s bureau of water and wastewater that it has located its regional office in the city.

It is currently working on three major water/wastewater contracts, including the Herring Run project. The Brew went back into city records and found that the company has secured a total of 82 EWOs on these contracts.

EWOs – used to pay for work not anticipated in a contract or requested by the city – have boosted the original $25,183,942 bid price of the contracts to $44,368,617, or a 76% increase. The projects are not yet completed, suggesting that additional cost overruns are inevitable.

Rudolph S. Chow, chief of the water bureau, defended the EWOs on one Spiniello contract (WC 1198) last June by saying they were for “urgent needs,” such as the emergency repair of a 72-inch water main that broke in Dundalk in 2009 and flooded a large section of the community.

City auditor Robert L. McCarty has criticized the water bureau for bundling together “emergency,” “urgent need” and “planned work” in the same contract, making it difficult to understand where the extra funds are going.

The system also means that an agency can add work to an existing, or “live,” contract rather than going through the competitive bidding process.

Why the Extra Cost?

The reason for the latest EWO at the Herring Run project could not be determined. Public record files in the city comptroller’s office did not retain a copy of the original contract and requests to review the EWO form submitted by the water bureau were not acted on by the deadline for this story.

Celeste Amato, a department spokesperson, said that finding such records takes time. Water bureau chief Chow is in Miami this week attending a conference.

The Board of Estimates agenda provides only the contract award amount, previously approved extra work and contractor name. There is no explanatory information or written justification for a EWO request.

An employee at Spiniello’s Baltimore office referred questions to Gerhardt Rodenberger, a division manager in New Jersey. He did not respond to a voice message left by this website.

The Board of Estimates is comprised of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, City Comptroller Joan M. Pratt, Public Works Director Alfred H. Foxx and City Solicitor George Nilson.

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