Council members debate contract

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By David Giuliani

Members of the City Council last week debated over whether to give business to the city’s longtime engineering firm — a discussion that touched on the controversy over a more than $1 million state grant.

The City Council was first asked to decide on whether to allow Albuquerque-based Molzen-Corbin and Associates to continue work on a dam safety project.

City staffers said the firm had already performed $5,000 worth of work for the project, including site visits and research.

The council was then requested to address the issue over how to handle choosing the firm that would prepare a preliminary engineering report for the use of $1.2 million from the state Water Trust Board.

Employees from the utilities department asked the council to continue the contract with Molzen-Corbin for the dam safety project.

But Councilman Andrew Feldman expressed reservations.

“Knowing some of the past actions of Molzen-Corbin, I would recommend that we not use the firm for anything,” he said, without elaborating his reasons.

Councilman Morris Madrid, however, said it would be unethical to exclude Molzen-Corbin from doing work for the city without providing specific reasons.

“I haven’t seen any technical inadequacy with them,” he said.

He added that he had no friends at Molzen-Corbin, noting that his scrutiny of the company during his time as city manager may have angered it.

Madrid suggested going with Molzen-Corbin for the dam safety project and including the possibility of the Water Trust Board job in the contract if the city had a tight deadline.

Feldman said he was fine with continuing with Molzen-Corbin for the dam safety project because the firm had already started work. But he said he didn’t want a “package deal” that would include the Water Trust Board money.

The council voted 4-0 to approve Molzen-Corbin for the dam safety project.

After the meeting, Adelmo Archuleta, Molzen-Corbin’s owner, said in a telephone interview that in his 33 years at the firm, he hasn’t heard anything like what Feldman said at the council meeting.

“I don’t know him. I would say he probably doesn’t know us. We haven’t worked for the city since he’s been on the council,” Archuleta said. “I would challenge him to provide specifics. We would go there any day to answer any questions about our projects in Las Vegas. We’re highly ethical.”

As for the Water Trust Board project, city officials have feared that they may be running out of time to get it started.

In 2006, the state Water Trust Board approved $1.2 million for a study to install pipes for the Storrie Project Water Users Association. In return, the group was to give the city more water storage rights in Storrie Lake.

But last year, then-City Manager John Avila started working to change the purpose of the money for sewer and effluent lines along Cinder Road. He said recently that he kept the council in the loop, but council members have said they weren’t.

On March 19, the state Water Trust Board, which is connected to the New Mexico Finance Authority, approved the request to change the purpose of the funding.

However, Councilwoman Diane Moore said at last week’s council meeting that the No. 1 priority should be getting the money to the Storrie Project.

She said the project has caused a lot of stress for the people involved. She noted that Utilities Director George DuFour went to the hospital, which happened after a torrent of publicity about the controversy surrounding the money.

She also said businessman Carlos Gallegos has also suffered. Gallegos, who quietly pushed for money for the sewer line, owns a 32-lot development along with Ron Diehl that would benefit from the Cinder Road sewer line.

Molzen-Corbin started work on a study for the Storrie Project. A Storrie official has said that he met with a representative from the firm a couple of years ago.

Nonetheless, the council voted unanimously last week to issue a new request for proposals for the project.

Archuleta said his firm has had a long relationship with the city of Las Vegas. He noted that Molzen-Corbin designed the wastewater treatment plant in 1979 and the recent upgrades to that facility. The firm also designed the water treatment plant, which has won awards, he said.

“I’d be happy to go to Las Vegas and discuss any project we’ve done,” he said.