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City settles wastewater plant dispute
MONROE - The city recently approved a settlement with AECOM Technical Services Inc. of Middleton, the company hired in January 2013 to oversee and inspect the $24.8 million wastewater treatment plant upgrade.

A lawsuit had been ongoing between the city and the company since March 2015.

Utilities Supervisor Mike Kennison said issues cited in the lawsuit included malfunctioning heat exchangers, filters for water and waste that look similar to large barn fans with hoses attached meant to heat the wastewater and prompt live bacteria to digest the waste. The temperature never reached more than 80 degrees during operation at the plant since mid-2014, which is too low for the host bacteria to adequately break down solid waste. The exchangers are meant to heat water to between 92 to 100 degrees to properly operate.

"What they had installed was not working," Kennison said. "That was the biggest issue. We had to change them to continue heating our sludge or we would have had some big, big problems."

Another problem with the facility includes a design flaw which allowed for an odor problem. Kennison noted in December during a meeting with the city council that AECOM "should have known" the smell was going to be a problem.

The original estimate of the project was $23 million, but ongoing change orders increased it to nearly $25 million by the time of its recent completion.

The settlement agreement was created after a mediation session Feb. 8 and follow-up negotiations by mediator John M. Harens, according to the document. Conditions of the mediation agreement include a release of any claims by either party brought against the other and the compromise means it should not "be construed by anyone to be an admission of liability" by either the city or AECOM and the agreement is "merely to avoid litigation and buy their peace."

The agreement includes a covenant between the two parties promising neither will file a lawsuit and both sides "agree that they shall not directly or indirectly make any statement that is professional or commercially disparaging about each other in any medium."

Monroe Common Council members considered a settlement brokered through mediation between the city and AECOM during a 40-minute closed session March 20, after which they reconvened and approved the settlement. The agreement was dated as effective starting March 5 but signed by AECOM Vice President Molly Page March 19. Monroe Mayor Louis Armstrong and City Administrator Phil Rath signed the document following its approval by council.

The settlement dictates the company pay $790,000 to the city, while the city was instructed to make a payment of $290,000 to AECOM. Rath said the way in which the payments will be made within 21 days of the meeting has yet to be established. He noted "it doesn't make sense to just cut a check" but was "not 100 percent" on whether the amount owed by the city would simply be subtracted from the payment made by AECOM.

If the city were to need to pay instead of off-setting the incoming settlement cost, Rath said funds in the equipment replacement account would cover the expense.