Audit shows WTP4 construction millions over budget


by MORGAN CHESKY / KVUE News and photojournalist DATHAN HULL

Posted on November 19, 2012 at 11:13 PM

Updated Monday, Nov 19 at 11:21 PM

AUSTIN -- Controversial, costly and now once again contentious, Monday afternoon brought another chapter in the saga of Water Treatment Plant 4.

"We all recognize that it's real money and that's a lot of money," said Director of Austin Water Greg Meszaros facing council members in an Audit and Finance Committee meeting.

The exact amount Meszaros referred to was the $359 million council passed two years ago to build the Northwest Austin plant. Now, Austin Water is asking for $15.5 million more.

"When I voted for this contract I thought that [359] was the number," said Mayor Pro-Tem Sheryl Cole. 

But a recent audit showed that $359 million isn't going as far as originally thought. In order to stay on track, Austin Water's already made nearly $40 million in cuts. The most significant cut was eliminating a planned water line running to Forest Ridge.

"The out of pocket costs aren't going to be much more than we expected," said councilmember Bill Spelman. "But we're not getting as much project as we expected to because we've had to lose some stuff to keep the prices down."

It's that lost stuff that's fired up environmental opposition.

"This is bait and switch," said one citizen.

"This is nothing short of an outrage," said Bill Bunch with Save Our Springs Alliance.

Bunch said the answer remains in water conservation and not another plant.

"It sets the stage for them to come back in another six months or 12 months and ask for yet more money," said Bunch.

If Austin City Council does approve the extra funds needed to finish the plant construction opponents say their fear is that extra cost would be transferred to water bills in a city that's already the highest in the state.

"Not to be flippant but only God can guarantee things," said Meszaros.

Which is why Austin Water is putting the plant's fate in Austin City Council's hands, hoping the promise of a finished plant is worth the price.

The consequences of not approving it are we get a half finished water treatment plant," said Spelman. "We don't get a chance to finish the thing, we need to finish it."

Council votes on upping that budget at their next meeting slated for December 6th.