Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Sewage board to have district run plant

By Barry Eberling DAILY REPUBLIC

FAIRFIELD - For more than three decades, the Fairfield-Suisun Sewer District has hired a company to run and maintain the Chadbourne Road sewage plant on the edge of Suisun Marsh.

That will soon change. The sewer district board, which consists of the city councils of Fairfield and Suisun City, decided Monday that the district should do the job itself.

The board voted unanimously to notify New Jersey-based United Water that it is canceling the operations contract.

Fairfield and Suisun City residents won't see any differences, district Assistant General Manager Talyon Sortor said Tuesday. But they could have seen higher sewer bills if the district didn't move to operate the plant itself, he said.

Among other things, district research showed there are only three companies that could run the local plant. That compares with five during the 1990s. Less competition could lead to higher prices for contract operators, a district report stated.

'One reason we did this was to maintain stable rates,' Sortor said.

Also, the district is ultimately responsible for what happens at the plant, particularly in the regulatory area, Board President and Suisun City Councilman Mike Segala said.

'So we might as well go and bring it in-house,' he said.

Major sewage plants in Vacaville, Vallejo and Napa are run by public agencies, Sortor said. Fewer than 5 percent of sewage plants nationwide are operated by contractors, he added.

Sortor stressed the move is no reflection on United Water, which he said is doing a good job.

The district needs about 35 workers to operate and maintain the plant. Segala said the workers already there under the United Water contract are very competent.

'We're hoping all of them will say, 'Yes, let's go and stay with the district,'' Segala said.

Many of the day-to-day workers have been at the plant under different contractors, some for as long as 20 years, Sortor said. The contractor brings in three to four managers, he said.

Fairfield-Suisun will work with United Water on the transfer, Sortor said, and the district could take over operation in July.

The district spends $6.5 million annually on its United Water contract, of which $2 million goes to such pass-through costs as energy and chemicals, a district report stated. The district's overall annual budget is about $46 million.

When the existing United Water contract ends in 2009, the cost for a new contract would likely increase $500,000 to $1 million, according to a report by Walnut Creek-based Whitley Burchett & Associates.

Should the district take over, the risk is that retirement costs could increase at a greater rate than if the plant remains run by contractors. Still, the district operations should save 5 percent over contract operations in 2008 and 10 to 15 percent thereafter, the report predicted.

Also, the district is in a better position to compete for workers in a field where finding experienced people is growing more difficult, the report stated.

Reach Barry Eberling at 425-4646, Ext. 232, or at

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