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Owens Plan May Expand

Pollution control officials say the DWP's dust-mitigation program should grow.

November 16, 2005|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

Having already budgeted $415 million to reduce dust in a 30-square-mile area of the Owens Valley, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has been notified that an additional nine square miles may need to be addressed, officials said Tuesday.

Amid concern over the escalating cost of the project, which was originally budgeted at $120 million, the DWP board decided Tuesday to seek bids to replace the firm serving as construction manager, CH2M Hill.

The DWP, which is required to undertake dust mitigation to address problems caused by decades of diverting water from the Owens Valley, could face an additional $100 million or more in costs if the area is expanded, officials said.

"Anything that involves a widening and broadening of the project is disappointing," said DWP Board President Mary Nichols, who noted the decision is not final.

Experts for the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District in Bishop concluded that an additional nine square miles appear to need dust mitigation to bring levels down to those acceptable to the Environmental Protection Agency, according to Theodore Schade, air pollution control officer for the district.

"We have a preliminary determination that it is nine square miles more. It has to be mitigated," Schade said.

The DWP may present scientific evidence to show that all or part of the additional area does not require mitigation measures, Schade said, adding, "They appear to have some reasonable claims."

With two-thirds of the dust-reduction project complete, including the planting of grass and diversion of water into the valley, there has been a 70% reduction in the number of days when dust levels exceed federal limits, according to Robert Rozanski, chief administrative officer of the DWP.

Rozanski said the DWP is hopeful that it can show no additional square miles should be added, "to the extent the work we are doing brings us into compliance."

Much of the increase in the budget for the program has come from expanding the area covered by the dust-reduction measures.

Still, DWP board members have questioned change orders and contract amendments that have increased payments to CH2M Hill to more than $100 million.

On Tuesday, board member Nick Patsaouras said it was a conflict to have CH2M Hill serve both as designer of the project and the entity making sure the project is on track.

"This is in line with industry practice where the designer is not the construction manager," Patsaouras said. "I think it's our responsibility to make it right."

The board had previously decided to conduct an audit of the firm's work.

Construction management for the fifth phase, which is about to start, is expected to cost less than $10 million, Rozanski said. The firm was to oversee the work of Barnard Construction Co., which recently received a $103-million contract to build additional dust-reduction systems.

"We put ourselves in a vulnerable position when we rely on the same company that designs a project to oversee the construction," Nichols said.

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