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PSB waives competitive bidding, other requirements for stormwater repair by El Paso Water

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The Public Service Board voted unanimously to reinstate emergency policy conditions for El Paso Water that allow the utility’s CEO to enter into contracts without PSB oversight.

The resolution approved Wednesday also waives state requirements for competitive bids on public projects and gives CEO John Balliew more leeway during the contracting process.

Utility officials said the changes to how they approve construction contracts are vital to speed up needed repairs of damaged stormwater systems that are a result of the heavy downpours last summer, which caused flooding across parts of the city.

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The contracting change started in July, when the PSB passed a similar resolution suspending the rules for construction contracting through October.

Balliew and Gisela Dagnino, the Stormwater Engineering division manager, requested the board reinstate a similar resolution during a presentation Wednesday, saying the utility had to make several million dollars in repairs before the 2022 monsoon season.

Dagnino told the board the utility identified more than 60 stormwater systems in need of urgent repair, which varied from clearing out channels, pouring concrete or reshaping drainage systems.

She said the utility has completed 17 of the projects. Another 16 were in the design or construction phases; 21 still required contracts and the final 10 were capital improvements, which are usually multi-year construction projects.

PSB Board Member Christopher Antcliff asked Dagnino exactly what the board was authorizing.

Dagnino said the utility would use existing money set aside for capital improvements to finish emergency construction projects before the next monsoon season in 2022.

“We’ve completed about $310,000 in projects, the ones in progress (total) about $2.9 million and we have about $3 million to $5 million left to do,” Dagnino said.

There are a few key differences between Wednesday’s resolution and the resolution approved in July

For starters, the new resolution has no set end date for the policy.

“The resolution will be in effect until amended or terminated by the board,” said Christina Montoya, a spokeswoman for El Paso Water.

Instead of containing a sunset date, the new resolution instead allows the PSB to revoke the emergency requirements if the board determines an “urgent public necessity no longer exists … to construct, repair or maintain El Paso Water’s facilities and property to mitigate flooding and damage to property or the loss of life.”

The new resolution has an additional clause, allowing the CEO to “take any and all related actions” to securing contracts, such as negotiations, signing and termination of other contracts, all without further PSB approval.

The resolution does require the CEO to inform the board “on the progress made and actions taken,” but doesn’t specify how often Balliew will report to the PSB.

Cover photo: Streets in Central El Paso’s Manhattan Heights neighborhood flooded on Aug. 12, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Jack Loveridge)

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Danielle Prokop

Danielle Prokop is a climate change and environment reporter with El Paso Matters. She’s covered climate, local government and community at the Scottsbluff Star-Herald in Nebraska and the Santa Fe New Mexican. She can be reached at dprokop@elpasomatters.org.

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