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Charleston officials refuse to stay mum on settlement

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A New York based company sued by the city of Charleston for failing to design a working compost facility asked city officials to sign a confidentiality agreement as part of the multi-million dollar settlement.

However, city officials refused to do so.

"It was a botched design," Mayor Danny Jones said about the facility.

O'Brien & Gere Engineers Inc. designed the compost facility at Copenhaver Park. However, the facility has never worked well, and the city sanitary sewer board lost thousands of dollars annually operating the facility.

The facility was designed to allow the city to compost yard waste and the sanitary sewage board to turn sewage sludge into Class A compost, said Larry Roller, director of the Sanitary Board.

The city can still use the facility to compost yard waste, but the Sanitary Board cannot use it to compost sewage sludge, Roller said.

"The facility just doesn't work right," he said.

The Sanitary Board filed suit against the company in 2000, and after 12 years of litigation and thousands of dollars of legal fees, the company agreed to settle for $2.6 million, Jones said.

The city had originally sued the company for $1.5 million. The Sanitary Board paid about $6 million to construct the facility.

O'Brien & Gere Engineers Inc. was contracted to design the facility and oversee its construction, Roller said.

After the settlement, which included the original suit amount plus legal and other fees, the company asked city officials to sign a confidentiality agreement stating they would not talk about the case, Jones said.

This was something he had no intention of doing, he said.

"We got our money," Jones said.

Jones pointed out that public entities such as city council couldn't sign confidentiality agreements involving settlements.  

The funds will now go to the Sanitary Board, Jones said.

City council members also agreed to award a contract to construct retaining walls on Overbrook Road and Lilly Drive for $198,999 to Thaxton Construction Inc.

Overbrook Road near the intersection with Stone Road was closed about two months ago when a portion of the retaining wall collapsed.

An embankment below Lilly Drive eroded after a water line in the area broke. However, Lilly Drive remains open.

City Engineer Chris Knox hopes the contractor can begin work within the next week.

Council members also debated a $29,155 payment to Charleston Newspapers to publish the city's financial statement for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2012.

The city is required to publish the financial statement in at least one local newspaper, and that amount covers publication in both the Charleston Daily Mail and Charleston Gazette.

Two council members, Majority Leader Jack Harrison and Mike Nichols, voted against the measure.

Harrison said he did so because he believes there are better ways to communicate the financial statement to city residents.

"People send us here to protect the city's purse," he said. "We could get a police cruiser for that amount."  

Nichols, who represents a West Side ward, said he would like to see the city get a cheaper rate.

City Treasurer Vic Grigoraci pointed out that the city could publish the statement in the local paper with the lowest circulation and save $15,000 to $16,000.

However, Jones pointed out that the city has always chosen to publish in both papers to reach the maximum number of people in the area.

"We always published in both papers for full public disclosure," Jones said.

"A lot of people get one paper or the other," Councilman Bobby Reishman said.

Reishman represents the Loudon Heights area.

"If we're going to go the newspaper route, we don't want some people not seeing it," he added.

Grigoraci pointed out that the papers have joint publications on weekends and the city could publish the financial statement on Saturdays and Sundays.

Council members agreed to publish the financial statements in both papers this year but consider alternatives in the future.

Contact writer Paul Fallon at paul.fallon@dailymail.com or 304-348-4817. Follow him at www.twitter.com/PaulBFallon.


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