By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News
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PORT ANGELES — City staff will ask City Council members Tuesday for permission to spend up to $99,000 to hire a consultant to assess the progress of the city's controversial and delayed “smart meter” project.
City staff will request approval of a professional services agreement with Chicago-based West Monroe Partners to evaluate the status of the city's advanced metering infrastructure project, commonly called the AMI or smart meter project.
Tuesday's City Council meeting will begin at 6 p.m. in the City Council chambers at Port Angeles City Hall, 321 E. Fifth St.
The $5.4 million smart meter project will replace the city's roughly 10,500 water and electric meters with devices that will be able to transmit utility usage data wirelessly to City Hall.
The project has been delayed by at least a year, however, while city staff and Mueller Systems, the city's Massachusetts-based contractor, work out software issues with the devices.
Craig Fulton, the city's public works and utilities director, said West Monroe Partners was chosen because of their expertise in reviewing smart meter projects in other cities across the country.
“We want a third-party assessment to give an unbiased analysis of where we are, where we need to go and how to get there,” Fulton said.
Fulton said representatives of West Monroe Partners will tell City Council members about their experience and how they plan to assess the city's smart meter project.
If approved, the consultants would provide provide a final report by Nov. 22, city staff expects.
The city began its smart meter project in January 2011 with the intent of completing it by April 2012.
The project, however, has been plagued by meter replacement and software problems, according to the city.
“The project, which began in early 2011, is significantly behind schedule causing the city to reassess the viability of both the project concept as well as the ability of the contractor to deliver a quality project that will have a long-term life span,” city staff wrote in a memo to City Council members.
Now, just more than a year after the project was scheduled to be completed, about 3,100 of the smart meters have been installed, with only 250 of those transmitting to test the software that runs the devices.
Fulton said the city is seeking an outside consultant because no city staff have the special expertise to evaluate the smart meter project and bring in other specialists to the degree that West Monroe Partners can.
“We have a lot of generalists in the city, but we don't have [staff for] some of [those] specialized areas,” Fulton said.
Fulton said the money to pay West Monroe Partners would come from municipal bonds in the city's electric, water and wastewater utilities that have already been sold.
City staff have said the installation contract with Mueller Systems was written so that the city will not pay anything extra if issues likes the ones that have delayed the smart meter project arise.
According to the City Council memo prepared for the West Monroe Partners contract, the consulting firm will assess the entirety of the smart meter project and prepare a report recommending changes to the project, explaining what the changes would cost and outlining alternatives.
The meters are controversial, too.
Earlier this month, city residents packed the council chambers to make clear to municipal officials that they don't want the meters, fearing health hazards they say come from the radio waves emitted from the meters.
At least 12 residents spoke against the project, stepping up from an audience of 65 to 70 people.
Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at email@example.com.