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Aztec amends river diversion project contract

Hannah Grover The Daily Times
The Daily Times

AZTEC — Since Smith Engineering Company was hired by Aztec officials more than year ago to work on the Animas River Diversion Project, the price tag of the project has increased by more than $60,000.

The most recent increase was approved by city commissioners Tuesday night. It is the fourth time the engineering contract has been amended in the last year.

The new amendment is for a small increase in price, raising the amount from $193,698 to about $196,270. The original contract, approved in February 2014, was for $135,714.

The original project was approved in 2011 after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers refused to issue a permit for the city to rebuild a rock dike that was constructed each year to divert water from the river for drinking. That meant the city was required to find a more permanent solution, since the rock dike typically washes away each year, according to The Daily Times archives.

On Tuesday, Commissioner Katee McClure expressed concerns about the engineering firm hired to complete the project after having read through email exchanges between the city's engineer, William Watson, and Smith Engineering Company.

"It just seemed to get really tense," McClure said.

The dispute in the emails came from a disagreement about what the city had agreed to pay for.

Watson said bickering is part of negotiating a price in all engineering agreements. But he admitted the exchanges between himself and Jared Lujan of Smith Engineering Company were more than a typical negotiation.

Watson said he had made changes to the original project that will save the city money, and that led to the company asking to be paid more.

Lujan said there was some miscommunication in the emails, but the additional cost for the project came from changes in plans that the city made.

One complaint City Manager Josh Ray directed at Smith Engineering Company is that Lujan is not the engineer the city had originally been working with during the bidding process.

Lujan confirmed that he was assigned to the project after the bid was awarded.

Since the project began, there has been a series of disagreements between Lujan and Watson, including when Smith Engineering Company sent plans that the city had not approved to Ecosphere Environmental Services, a company that is working to prepare an application for the city's federal 404 permit, which would allow the city to put fill material into the river during the construction of the diversion.

Lujan said that was due partly to miscommunication, along with the fact that Smith Engineering Company was working on a time line that had been agreed upon.

"This whole process did not go smoothly," Watson said.

Hannah Grover covers Aztec and Bloomfield, as well as general news, for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 and hgrover@daily-times.com. Follow her @hmgrover on Twitter.