Engineering firm ends services to avoid funding threat

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The McCook engineering consulting firm of Miller and Associates resigned effective Monday morning as Red Willow County's roads superintendent.

At the county commissioners' weekly meeting Monday, engineer and roads supervisor Gary Dicenta told commissioners that the resignation will prevent a conflict of interest when the county is approved for federal aid or federal stimulus money for transportation projects.

Dicenta said the federal government would perceive a conflict of interest and deny funding if Miller and Associates designed a federal aid- or federal stimulus-funded project and was still acting as county roads superintendent.

Dicenta said that Miller and Associates can still provide other engineering services for the county such as gravel and asphalt projects, hydraulic testing and bridge replacement projects. "We're still here," he said. "The only thing we cannot do (for the county) is construction inspection on a project we designed" that will be funded with federal aid money.

Red Willow County has two projects waiting on federal funding -- "McCook North," 21⁄2 miles of asphalt northeast of McCook, from McCook's East 11th Street north onto the county road; and "McCook West," 1.3 miles of asphalt from the Perry Elevator (west of McCook) south on the county road.

New federal and state regulations require a separation between a county highway superintendent and consulting engineer, resulting in a separation of duties between a county highway superintendent, consulting engineer (design services) and consulting engineer (construction administration services). "Miller and Associates can do only one of the three (duties)," Dicenta said. A lack of separation will eliminate the availability of federal funding, he said.

Miller and Associates' resignation "protects the county so you don't lose federal and stimulus money," Dicenta said.

* Another change in the county's dealings with Miller and Associates was the hiring Sept. 14 of Karl Elmshaeuser, executive director of West Central Nebraska Development District in Ogallala, as the county's "responsible charge person" (RC person) to oversee all projects funded with federal money.

Dicenta said Elmshaeuser must bring himself up-to-date and become very involved and familiar with Red Willow County's two federal aid/stimulus project, making "100 percent sure" that every piece of paperwork is submitted correctly and on time, to insure receipt of federal funds.

Dicenta said that Elmshaeuser has not contacted Miller and Associates for paperwork already completed and submitted. "He has to be on top of these things. He's got to keep these two projects going for you," Dicenta told commissioners.

Commissioner Leigh Hoyt asked that Elmshaeuser be put on the agenda to verify that he is current on all federal aid paperwork and familiar with Red Willow County's projects.

Commissioners are concerned with all the new "layers of oversight" that are being created to receive federal funding. "This is just creating more layers and more layers of oversight, and it's getting more expensive," Commission Chairman Earl McNutt said.

Dicenta said that no one in Nebraska has been through a project with an RC person yet. "There may be changes," he said. "We'll have to deal with it."

McNutt added, "We'll have to, if we want the money."

In other business:

* Yet another change in the county's dealings with Miller and Associates is the new requirement that all bridge inspection reports "stay with the owners" and be organized according to federal requirements, Dicenta said. All of the county's bridge inspection files -- now contained in a three-ring binder at the Miller and Associates office in McCook -- will have to be reorganized, moved to the courthouse and put into a filing cabinet, he said.

"It's going to be a pain-in-the-butt for me to run back-and-forth to the courthouse," Dicenta said. "Having the records in my officer was so handy."

* Wood told commissioners that the county has no responsibility to maintain roads in any subdivision within the county, including the Calabria subdivision northeast of McCook.

* Commissioners and Erik Templin discussed Hayes Companies working alongside Meritain Health on the county employees' health plan.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: