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Amid protests, DPW selects efficiency consultant for water-treatment facilities

Amid protests, DPW selects efficiency consultant for water-treatment facilities
Two contractors take test borings from Druid Park Lake in late November. DPW plans to bury water storage tanks in this part of the lake as part of a $4.5 billion upgrade to the city's water works. (Edward Ericson Jr.)

The Department of Public Works selected PA Consulting, a London-based company, to conduct a $500,000 "efficiency study" of the city's water treatment facilities. Normally such a small contract, which is not yet finalized, would not rate any ink, but this one has prompted protests and organizing by a Boston-based nonprofit that says small contracts like this one can lead to "water privatization" schemes that ill-serve ratepayers.

Corporate Accountability International has targeted Veolia, the giant French company that competed for the Baltimore contract. With a coalition of local union and church-based organizations, it staged a protest rally in August and packed a hearing Monday in which people sharply questioned public works officials and criticized the consulting contract, according to the Baltimore Brew.

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The nonprofit issued a press release last night after DPW announced the contract:

"Given its track record of labor abuses, rate hikes and quality concerns, it is certainly a step in the right direction for Baltimore that Veolia will not be involved with the management or operation of its water system," the Corporate Accountability email says. "However, it is deplorable that just two days after the community came together in City Council chambers to oppose contracting with a private firm, the DPW usurped the democratic process and moved forward with a private consultant. The city still needs to answer the questions raised at City Council about the need for an outside consultant rather than investing in the city and developing internally.

"The One Baltimore United coalition, which represents more than 40 community, faith and labor organizations, champions affordable housing, quality education, good jobs and stronger public services. Following today's hearing, the coalition will continue to demand public solutions for the city's water system and a full range of public sectors."

DPW says PA Consulting's bid was reviewed by five senior DPW officials, the Law Department and the mayor's office, and two officials from Baltimore County, which uses the city's water and sewer treatment services. The contract's specifics will now be negotiated, after which the finalized contract will go to the city's Board of Estimates for final approval.

Click here for more from Edward Ericson Jr. or email Edward at eericson@citypaper.com

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