The Independence City Council voted Monday to go ahead with a $9.765 million contract for the sale, demolition and remediation of the Missouri City power plant, declining the request of the Public Utilities Advisory Board, as well as one council member's motion, to postpone the vote.
The contract with Environmental Operations, Inc., was more than twice the proposal put forth by Commercial Liability Partners at $4.25 million. Missouri City, a coal-fueled plant along the Missouri River on Clay County, ceased producing power in 2015. The ash pond there has since been capped.
The vote was 5-2, with council members Scott Roberson and Karen DeLuccie in dissent.
An engineering firm reported to the city two years ago that it estimated such a demolition project would cost about $17 million.
The PUAB had initially declined during last month's hearing to recommend the Environmental Operations contract, due in large part to questions on why the city preferred EOI with its higher proposal and didn't negotiate with CLP. The board submitted a series of questions to the council and received answers shortly before last Thursday's public hearing on the Missouri City contract. The PUAB then requested the council postpone its vote until the board had time to consider the answers – plus a dissenting response from Roberson and DeLuccie – and meet again. The council is not obligated to follow the board's recommendations.
Roberson cited the board's request to wait, as well as an upcoming financial audit on Independence Power & Light and a master energy plan, in a motion to postpone the vote until May 2018. He later motioned to postpone until Aug. 21, until the PUAB met and one study came back. Only DeLuccie supported those requests.
“We need to make a good business decision overall, and my concern is we don't have enough information yet,” Roberson said. “We're paying for two studies; we deserve to hear from them before we make this decision.”
DeLuccie said waiting few months to give a volunteer citizens board time should hurt and that the city should have at least talked with the CLP given the price difference.
“I don't think a few months is going to break this deal,” she said.
After hearing from city staff and the CEO of Environmental Operations at Thursday's public hearing, several citizens expressed concern about choosing the higher contract and whether that difference eventually would be passed on to ratepayers.
Some council members mentioned the difference from the initial estimate in approving the EOI contract, but moreso they cited what the city deemed to be superior qualifications and the chance to avoid potential higher future costs.
City Manager Zach Walker said IPL staff believed EOI had more experience than CLP and had stronger financial and bonding capacity to assure the project would be completed.
John Perkins said the future of Missouri City has been discussed to some degree since his first tenure on the City Council, 1996-2004, and he wondered how potentially having two idle power plants – depending on future decisions regarding Blue Valley – would affect the city's credit rating.
“This hasn't been something that was on the shelf. Nine-point-seven million is a lot of money; we do take this seriously moving forward.”
Curt Dougherty said that when he joined the council six years ago, then-city manager Robert Heacock said the city had been lucky to put off a decision for years at that point.
“The sooner it's gone the better, and now we've come to this day of reckoning,” he said.
Brent Schondelmeyer of the citizens group Indy Energy, who had been among those speaking against the contract before the PUAB, said the city and citizen engagement that preceded Monday's decision was encouraging.
“This was good, and we'll be doing this more,” he said. “Thanks for indulging the conversation.”
Mayor Eileen Weir agreed that all the discussion had been helpful.
“We have all learned a lot through this long, in-depth process,” she said.