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Snow forced the cancellation of the Feb. 17 City Council meeting and that resulted in a couple of extra “special orders of business” in Feb. 24 meeting. The meeting, by all rights, should have lingered long into the night, but it did not. With Council’s questioning little other than the Robert Crown report and nothing controversial enough to bring in crowds of citizens, a rather sedate meeting ended before 9:30 p.m.

It began with celebration, however. In answering roll call, every alderman responded with a variation of “Happy birthday, Alderman [Mark] Tendam.” To close out citizen comment, Ald. Tendam’s husband, Neal Moglin, spoke on an “off agenda topic [to] address an element of aging infrastructure here at City Hall.” Ald. Tendam, he said, is 59 years old today. Mr. Moglin brought cupcakes for everyone at the meeting: Council and citizens (and the press!) alike to celebrate.

After that, the City got down to business. Everyone’s favorite agenda item, the purchase of granular materials used by the water and sewer department, typifies such business. The rock mixture, mostly crushed limestone with washed stone and fine aggregate sand mixed in, serves as backfill when the department repairs and maintains water mains and sewers. Last year, with an unusual number of water main breaks required a change order for more granular materials –  $9,500 worth. This year, the department hopes to stay within its almost $35,000 budget.  The price remains the same this year.

On a related note, Council approved the purchase of “water distribution system materials,” including fire hydrants and brass fittings. Total cost for 10 hydrants and assorted brass materials: almost $65,000.

On a more expensive note, Council agreed to a $1.4 million project to add heating elements and repair and update zebra-mussel-control systems on the City’s 48-inch water-intake pipe. Ice was a huge problem for the water department for a couple of days in 2009, nearly forcing the complete shutdown of the entire water pumping station. That led to the installation of a heating element on the larger pipe. Now, Council has approved installation of a similar heating element on the second-largest pipe as well.

A system discouraging mussels from attaching to the pipe by pumping chlorine around the entry point was installed in 1992, but was found to be at least partially inoperative during the 2009 heating installation. The project will run new chlorine lines to all three pipes.

The water intake contract is unusual in that it proceeds in two steps: Council provided “notice of intent” to enter into a contract Monday night. The project now goes to the IEPA, which will decide whether or not to provide a loan to make the project possible. If IEPA agrees to the loan, and the City expects that they will do so, then the contract will be finalized and the project can begin.

Lake Erie Diving, the same company that performed the 2009 project, won the bid as the lowest responsive bidder. That was not the case for other contracts approved Monday night.

The starkest example was an agreement for supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) support services for the water department. The design of the finished water metering contract revealed a need for upgraded SCADA at the water department necessitating this contract. The City budgeted $108,000 for the project and noted, in the staff memo, that the department spent “less than $25,000 per year” for on call services.

The Water Department received three bids, and chose the highest bidder, CDM Smith, for a total of $133,000. The bid includes design and integration with the newly installed metering system, plus $25,000 next year for on call services. CDM Smith was given a waiver on MWEBE compliance because of a stated goal of using no subcontractors to perform the work.

The City rejected a bid from MWEBE-compliant MG Automation that would have cost about half as much as the Smith bid. Staff indicated that CDM Smith, with whom they have worked before, had greater expertise and experience working with water departments. Despite the lower price, MG Automation failed to “demonstrate qualifications working on SCADA systems for water filtration plants or other similar projects.”

Similarly, a contract to perform a City-wide tree inventory went to an Ohio bidder, Davey Resource Group, despite a bid price more than 50 percent higher than Oak Park-based bidder Natural Path Urban Forestry Consultants. The project will inventory all of Evanston’s public trees on parkways, in parks and in other public spaces. Davey gets the job because “they demonstrated the highest degree of overall expertise relative to this project and would provide the required services at the best overall value to the City and within the City’s desired timeframe,” according to the staff memo.

The City estimates that there are about 32,000 public trees, and Paul D’Agostino, Assistant Director of Public Works, Forestry, said it has been about nine years since the last inventory. He said that with Davey’s shorter time frame – eight weeks instead of Natural Path’s 12 – the project could be concluded in June. He said a contract now means that satellite imagery can identify trees and trunk sizes before leaves obstruct views. The project will cost $122,000.00. Natural Path’s bid was $80,850.

Council agreed to lower the cost of a liquor license that no company has now, the Class U license for theater and performing-arts spaces. Previously, such a license would have cost a theater like the Piccolo, which City Attorney Grant Farrar said asked about a lower rate, $1,300 a year. Council introduced an ordinance lowering that to $500 per year. With a lower annual fee, if it passes next meeting, perhaps some Class Us will come.

On a sadder note, the City decreased two Class Ds and a Class C, after the closing of Pine Yard, Lulu’s and Taco Diablo, two of which were lost in the Davis Street fire last month. Council suspended the rules so they would not have to see these items on the agenda again next meeting.