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Water battle

SFPUC head attempts to replace embattled Bechtel with another private firm

By Savannah Blackwell

Pat Martel, the general manager of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, is trying to replace Bechtel Infrastructure Corp. with another private contractor to manage the agency's massive overhaul of the more than 150 miles of pipeline that deliver water to San Franciscans and Bay Area residents, the Bay Guardian has learned.

The plan is for the SFPUC to partner with CH2M Hill, a national engineering design and construction corporation, without seeking bids from other contractors first. Under Martel's proposal, the deal would be identical to the city's contract with Bechtel in that it would run for four years and be worth $45 million, sources within the SFPUC told us.

In 2000, CH2M Hill was part of a team led by the firm O'Brien Kreitzberg that tried to win the original contract. It lost to the San Francisco Water Alliance, a joint venture in which Bechtel is the lead company.

Last September another private engineering company, Malcolm Pirnie, reviewed the Bechtel contract and concluded that no savings would be achieved unless the firm's role was better defined (see "Report Knocks Bechtel," 10/03/01).

The new contract, so far, does not scale back the role of the private firm, sources said.

"This is a great big contract and essentially privatization of the management again," said David Novogrodsky, executive director of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, Local 21. "The SFPUC should be moving forward with managing its own problems, but it does not appear that they are doing that."

E-mail Savannah Blackwell at savannah@sfbg.com.