Firm angling for Los Osos project fails the smell test in New Orleans

March 14, 2010

The engineering firm on track to be San Luis Obispo County’s choice to oversee the multi-million-dollar Los Osos wastewater project is the subject of a new scathing report by the inspector general of New Orleans. [Times-Picayune]

The 28-page report claims that MWH Americas, Inc. has overbilled the city of New Orleans repeatedly, while their critical post-Katrina recovery work lags behind. The report arrived on Mayor Ray Nagin’s desk the same day his capital projects administrator, who had been warning for months about problems with MWH, resigned.

Specifically, the inspector general’s report accuses MWH of overbilling the city of New Orleans on everything from theater tickets, a flight to Las Vegas, Christmas presents, and the rental of a corporate apartment–items with no apparent link to the recovery work.

News reports also indicate that MWH’s contract with New Orleans allows the company to add 23 percent on to the cost of expenses– which, by last June, accounted for nearly $250,000 of $1.3 million in billed expenses.

At the same time, MWH has racked up fees far faster than its rate of progress on capital projects. An internal city analysis found that MWH had billed for approximately 118 percent of the actual value of its work through last July, accounting for nearly $3 million in billing overages.

The new report continues to fuel criticism among Los Osos residents who oppose hiring MWH to oversee their new wastewater project.

In an email to CalCoastNews,  Gail McPherson of the Los Osos Technical Task Force indicated she is asking to meet as soon as possible with county Board of Supervisors chair Frank Mecham to discuss the New Orleans report.

MWH appears to have the inside track with the county to develop the collection system and the treatment plant for the upcoming $165 million Los Osos sewer system, despite previous controversy in New Orleans and Cape Coral, Florida.

Critics say the company is favored unfairly by county Public Works director Paavo Ogren, who worked for MWH before joining the public sector.


MWH is just another stone in David’s sling for the poor folk in Los Osos.

Tess TruHart

And didn’t that “wonderful Gail Wilcox have some “say” in the negotiations as well?


There’s a new player in town — PERC Water — who is proposing a pretty interesting waste water project for Morro Bay/Cayucos that the county should take a good look at as well. It’s a chance to solve multiple problems with one fix and if it checks out, might be the way to go with Los Osos’ sewer issues, as well as Morro Bay.

Frankly, given New Orleans’ long history of corruption, coupled with FEMA’s ineptness this doesn’t surprise me very much.


Lets see what the word limit is-

The County has dedicated 16 web pages to house the complaint by Lisa Schicker against Paavo Ogren’ dealings with MWH. Obviously, the Scoundrelous County are trying o cover something up by using the nefarious technique of “Hiding it in plain sight”. The Complaint itself is 1,400 pages long. Given that an eight page Contract was in fact back dated by B. Buel as per the one page memo in which he described receiving instructions to that effect from the exiting (exited) Paavo Ogren. This was a serious violation of the intent of the process of contract execution and was duly provided to authorities in (06?) (by Lisa?/Gail?/Bleskey) whereupon it was swiftly not acted on , probably because the intent to execute the contract itself was disclosed and discussed in closed session and public sessions. The remaining unresolved ethical issue IMHO is that of involving a lower level employee in that improper signature process. The 1,400 complaint submitted to the county (and the P.C. at the height of their work on the current project) and was easily rejected by the County because it was eminently easily rejectable, due to its on lack of merit as a substantiating legal complaint. Given it’s length and lack of organization (Only 7 pages of the 8 page contract “the basis for the complaint” was submitted in the original package of 1,000 + pages in my cursory review), the complaint was not reviewed (was not immediately reviewable) expeditiously by county council Warren Jensen. This delay caused by the “design” of the complaint itself, was used as proof of cover-up in subsequent Media releases by the complainants. The inactionable complaint itself was therefore “Judged” only in the court of public opinion (Ref “New Times“ Opinion piece). It is a simple statement of reality that the ordinary members of the public will not be expected to read the actual submitted complaint, and rely instead on what they read in various media or listen directly to their friends. Note also that Gail/Lisa asked the BOS to remove MWH on the basis of this and the Florida investigation of a project there. I’m not a specialist on bidding Law , but IMHO it would be ILLEGAL for the county to reject a potential bidder without much, much more substantial grounds.

So the question is, why subject your friends to the impression that their government is hiding things from the citizens by using the very same media manipulations that you are accusing the Authorities of? When there may even be other things that may be legitimately wrong?

The New Orleans free Money grab was bound to generate some improper activities including by a nationally large player such as MWH. I don’t like it any more than anybody else does, but I’m not going to pretend to be “doing something” about it.

Unintended consequences of taking MWH out of the action? Less competitive bidding. I don’t think that would happen, even though MWH-New Orleans and national have a lot to answer for.

Intended consequences of submitting a complaint that will not possibly be acted on irrespective of the “honesty” level of the government? More money out of pocket for the scared innocent souls in L.O. who are unwittingly bankrolling this and other adventurism, and possibly not funding or supporting other efforts, that may ACTUALLY benefit them.

Chesburger,-this? LOCSD letters 1 and 2 to MWH, terminating contracts and detailing all False Claims. August 2006

Happy hunting.


Okay Alon, here is the problem I am having with what you’re saying. On Congalton’s Show today, you talked about providing a counterargument, but by counterargument, you brought up Lisa Schicker’s formal complaint and not the New Orleans’ Inspector General’s report. When Congalton asked you, “Did you read it?” you couldn’t come up with an answer. Instead, you talked about how Schicker’s 1,400+ page complaint had 1,300 more pages than necessary. I have to say, Alon, that was weak and a lot of people tuning into the show felt the same way.

It doesn’t matter what view you have of Schicker’s formal complaint, you were going after Schicker rather unnecessarily — and it was unnecessary because she didn’t write the report on New Orleans. It wasn’t her that arrived at the conclusion that found negative inference. It wasn’t her that created this problem. This is MWH we’re talking about here. Unfortunately, I’m going to have to put you in the same category as Mythbuster: a person who is minimizing criticism by going after the people supporting this information. These people often go on the comments sections of these sites to provide the “counterargument,” but by the end of the day, it sounds like you either really dislike Schicker or you’re working for MWH. Maybe even both.


I do hate these nestled strings

It’s like i’m arguing with the waterboard

Lisa’s Complaint to the BOS is the foundation for everything else. Cong-gail went into it’s being ridiculed. Gail-Con described parts as being predictive.

Oh Quiet bay (or may I call you Robert Kingsley, since you have outed yourself.)

You are so politically naïve!

So NOT media savvy. You should had been Lisa’s running mate in ’04. I’m sure Julie had been misled but I don’t know her to be manipulable. You smell like a freshly popped can of Play-Douh. Speaking of Douh- THE MEDIA IS THE MESSAGE

1. The Structure as pre-decided by the Radio host and in agreement with the guest as to the subjects allowed in the Call-in portion.

2. The role e-mails to generate call-ins, play in the scripted portions.

3. The importance of directing attention to alleged personal deficiencies of those whose points you cannot dispute, while carefully using many words in avoiding the appearance of using character attacks yourself.

You seem to ignore that I wasn’t too flattering to Gail McPherson here as also seems to be the case with TessTrueheart- Why ignore Gail and focus on Lisa, QuietBay?? Is it because there is still a lot of sympathy for Lisa in LO while Gail is a pariah?

Is it not clear to you from my many communications that I consider that Gail is running the show while Lisa is and was the figurehead?

Of course I could be wrong on that. Maybe Gail is the figurehead and that is why Lisa brought her in for the discussions with Assemblyman Sam.

And you conveniently left out that I addressed MWH new Orleans as likely Guilty here and on the show because that would not then allow you to label me as “Working for MWH”.

You should really get together with Gail. She could use someone like you.


Explain how media savvy you are when you were cut off by Congalton.

You’re constantly changing your angle of criticism. First, you jump in a conversation about the New Orleans’ Inspector General’s report and then you somehow link it to Lisa Schicker’s formal complaint without connecting the dots — and then you’re talking about Gail. I don’t know where you’re coming from. I don’t know if you like pointing fingers at people randomly or you’re trying to make yourself look good. Either way, it’s not working.

It’s not about political naivete. It’s about making sense and taking a firm stand. If you don’t have one, then you should probably reconsider your platform and speak when you’re ready to speak. Regardless of the conditions you cited, you weren’t ready. If the media is the message, you should have been ready to prepare a clearer message.

True, you did say MWH was “guilty without being charged,” but in my opinion, if you truly believed that, why didn’t you make any comments about the report? Why haven’t you said anything about Cape Coral? Why haven’t you said anything about the 2005 LOWWP? Why did you make Schicker’s complaint as a focal point when clearly, that’s a non sequitor. Sympathy for Schicker was not part of the agenda. It was not part of the news.

I agree with Congalton when he said, “I don’t care about the complaint, but I care about this report,” because we now see a clear pattern of abuse with this contractor. Hypothetically, you can disregard the formal complaint that Schicker submitted and find merit with this investigation. The report does not require putting it in context with her complaint. That’s the beauty of it, but you feel that the complaint is the “foundation for everything else.” That doesn’t make any sense, sorry.


Yada yada yada spin spin spam.

The charade requires a narrowing of focus.

It’s all a matter of Hocus Pocus.

Why am I not making Your Points for YOU?

Sorry -For Gail and the inprinted ducklings Crew?

Stir the pot, toil and bubble up the Stew?

So, I took the risk of having my congletons cut off.

What have you done for los osos lately, Kingsley?

Have you met with Meacham or Blakesley?

At least Gail runs around doing no good.

Why are you sniping from the sidelines,

Not infront where every good citizen should?

being media Savvey has nothing to do with being cut off, it’s a Radio Show. Sandwiched between the Rush Limberg and the other rush Limberg

There is no guarenteed 3 minutes,

Silly Robbert, Tricks are for disgruntled former waste facilities managers.

And it seems to be working, based on the reams of spindling you are putting out.

But Debating Roberts is not my thing dearie. I’m just pointing out how Los Osos works.

Those whose lips are permenantly Koolaid purple will not hear.


I find it a little disheartening that you turned your rebuttal into poetry, but instead of expressing pity, I’ll condense my posts into simple concepts that even you will understand.

You didn’t read the report. You went after Schicker and her complaint. The complaint had nothing to do with the report that came out of New Orleans. Can the report be added as a supplement to the complaint? Sure, but the complaint itself is not the foundation for the report — and you never explained what you meant by “everything else,” so I’m giving you that rope to explain yourself. I’m not inside your head.

And what’s this whole, “What have you done for Los Osos lately?” question have anything to do with what’s happening now? I don’t understand, but here’s what I do understand. We have a contractor on our hands that have business practices are undoubtedly questionable, but they just so happen to be on the forefront of every LOWWP incarnation. The question you should be asking is, “Why should we be concerned?” and NOT, “What have you done for Los Osos lately?” If asking that question is part of explaining how Los Osos works, then you’ve single-handledly proven to everyone reading this blog that you are completely incapable of separating your inflated ego from the issue.


“Trying to minimize criticism by limiting the subject to who is doing the criticizing (by attacking them) implies that you didn’t read the report.”

Did you read my Report at the beginning of this string?

Why should I be concerned whether MWH Narln’s illegally ordered Escargot Or Crawdad Jambalaya.

It is the cynical way that the poor souls in L.O. are being manipulated into thinking that there is salvation right around the corner (so let’s take it at speed with our bald re-treads)

The Schicker complaint Co written by McPherson provided the foundation for hours and hours of public testimony that interfered with the important business of moving the Sewer back in from Tonini where it did not belong. The level of proof or relevance or of competent complaint writing was clearly lacking and I spent some time since JULY going into those details. I probably did have an affect, hence the current attempt to say “That was not the real smoking gun- This New Orleans thing is- Ignore the man behind the curtain”. It will still be the song remains the same. Gail should know that nothing she presented, including now, is sufficient to have a legally influencing affect on the bidding process. The bottom line is that Gail will probably collect some funds for one of the competing schemes. Look ahead to many more Hours of testimony on this, when the real issues Critical to the survival of the aquifer will be snowed under again. Your method of debate is tiresome. Cherry pick some “Angle” Ignore any real answer and spin back to your agenda ( “by limiting the subject to who is doing the criticizing (by attacking them) [authored by Quietbay]”. At least one good thing that now may come of it that Gail has found a new life, and can stop skulking around the blogs looking for scraps like some attention deprived child. I know that you know that I know, you fool. Don’t you think that people are still passing along the emails?

Not even you believe your own B.S. .

Why should I pass my time pretending to care what you SAY you think? So no more nested comments, toots.

Just write a letter to the BOS asking that MWH re-qualify as soon as possible, in light of the New Orleans Issue and cut out the rest of the DRAAAAH-HA-HAMAA.


quietbay, what was the outcome of the Cape Coral case with MWH? Are they being prosecuted?


Investigation is still pending. No conclusions yet, but the Kessler audit — that analyzed MWH’s spending — found some very questionable irregularities that MWH has yet to explain.


So on a pending investigation, which may turn up nothing, they are being treated as GUILTY. Stir up controversy locally so they can be dismissed, with NO PROOF, just innuendo. How very GAIL.

Quote quietbay, “We have a contractor on our hands that have business practices are undoubtedly questionable”

Undoubtedly? Looks like you took the bait, shame on you. You must believe in the “guilty until proven innocent” judicial system. We don’t do that here in America, or weren’t you aware?


Before you continue to wag your finger at me, pay close attention to what I’m about to say to you.

This report on MWH in New Orleans is the Inspector General’s report, not innuendo. The investigation in Cape Coral is based on problems with overbilling, not innuendo. While an investigation shouldn’t presume guilt, the city of Cape Coral found enough cause to conduct an investigation. Unfortunately for you, this is simply not innuendo.

Did I mention that MWH was found guilty in the Cape Coral investigation? No. I think you should pay attention a little better to what I’m writing before you prematurely jump the gun.


So “Los Osos Technical Task Force” LOTTF is representing the interests of Los Osos through the person of Gail McPherson who doesn’t live in the prohibition Zone, directly to the “new” County Supervisors board Chair. Hummmm…

More to come.

Incidentally I predicted this all a few days into the original release of the 1,000 (+400) page complaint.

Speaking of excesive length- Mythbuster -How dare you summurize the points I made in a word document that I started at noon? and havn’t posted yet!

Heading back to farmers market.

More to come.


Yee-haaaaaa!!! Good old Gail McPherson is back on another MWH rant to liven up the non-news. I wonder what took her so long!!?? Last time she put pitiful Ms. Schicker up as a front for her specious claims and we all saw how miserably and laughably that flopped!

The criticism of MWH is hardly community-wide. It is a mini-pot of gaseous beans, stirring up a little blast of septic-style methane, by people who don’t want a sewer. They hide this fact under a grassy, green cloak of “sustainability,” using technologies that will never fly in this county.

MWH is one of three contractors up for consideration on each phase of the project – collection and treatment, and no one has won any contract yet, the project is stalled out at the Coastal Commission.

Any company as prominent and world-wide huge as MWH is bound to be accused of something by someone. The pitiful part is the nut jobs of Los Osos jumping on it to further their own cause.


“It is a mini-pot of gaseous beans, stirring up a little blast of septic-style methane, by people who don’t want a sewer.”



The problem with your post is that there are people outside of Los Osos — who have a sewer — and have a problem with MWH Americas so yes, it goes beyond the community that we live in. Trying to minimize criticism by limiting the subject to who is doing the criticizing (by attacking them) implies that you didn’t read the report.

The last paragraph of yours is logically faulty because, for one thing, if what you said was true, you would see people going after the other contractors on the design-build RFQ. The focus has been solely on MWH because that company has a track record of overbilling. They may underbid, but they overbill and the taxpayers have to pay for the excessive costs.

If you take way who is presenting the information and look at the information for what it is, you can clearly see there are problems. This is real. These are real invesigations, real reports, real data that really goes up, over and beyond who is presenting it or supporting it.

Tess TruHart

I don’t understand why Gail McPherson thinks she is the “appropriate” person to have a “meeting” with Mr. Meecham. McPherson is NOT in the “prohibition zone”, therefore does NOT have to pay for the costly sewer that’s being forced on approximately 4500 property owners. She Loves being in the spotlight for some strange reason. No one has asked her to be a spokesperson for the Community, what’s in it for her? She just needs to “GET OVER HERSELF” & get on with her life.


Ogren was also one of the architects for the Nacimiento Water Project where SLO citizens are paying for water they will likely never use. Already, there is a court case in Kern County debating the issue of a city hanging on to the water rights when they are not using the water. SLO could end up losing its water rights after paying year after year for “reserve water”. Nacimiento could end up being the biggest water fraud in this county’s history.


Thanks CalCoastNews for keeping us up to date on MWH’s questionable business practices. This happened in Cape Coral, Florida as well as in New Orleans, Los Osos and Morro Bay, I appreciate your coverage. Piper Reilly

Tess TruHart

I was in New Orleans last April & was appalled by the lack of progress that had been made in that City. It was a very sad sight. MWH has a very bad track record… I do not understand why Paavo Ogren & the County are fighting so hard to have this corrupt firm do the project for Los Osos. It’s clear, the County and/or some of it’s high ranking “officials” are no doubt getting some pretty handsome kick backs. It’s been done before. Otherwise, why are they so adament on “having it their way”, when it’s only about 4500 property owners in Los Osos that’s paying for the entire sewer tab…not the county.


It’s interesting in that County Public Works dismissed the Mid Town site as being socially infeasible. The social infeasibility is derived from the fact that in September 2005, people did not approve of the current plan in place and that plan was MWH’s plan. Now, if you apply that standard of social infeasibility to the design-build RFQ, MWH is naturally eliminated from the shortlist, but since the County found the old project to be feasible, MWH is right up there in a place where a much better, more honest contractor should be — regardless of what collection system they provide.


(MWH was selected from among seven final bidders – after months of private negotiations between the city and the firm — and awarded “a major contract estimated at the time to be worth up to $48 million,” said the report. After MWH was awarded the contract, the Inspector General found the city “improperly” paid MWH employees almost $48,000 – up to $275 an hour for some workers – for negotiating their contract with the city.),,, right out of the devastated hurricane peoples fund.,,what an improper display of being a true American. These despicable people who took advantage of our government funds,!!!Earmarked for the hurricane VICTEMS,,, should not allowed to build our sewer system!!!!!!!!!!!!


Does anyone remember the letter the CSD wrote to MWH terminating their contract in 2006? Violations cited in the District’s termination letter included submitting invoices and being compensated multiple times for the same work, submitting false and misleading information to government agencies in support of regulatory requirements, permits, financing and licenses, and making financial contributions to government officials so as to influence courses of actions not in the best interests of the District. That’s not all – just an example of the violations cited. Sounds a lot like New Orleans’ problem doesn’t it? So what happened after that? Our wonderful County officials took the project away from the CSD, and have pushed relentlessly for the biggest, most expensive sewer project possible, ignoring better and cheaper alternatives, although the expense of the project they are pushing will cause thousands of Los Osos residents to lose their homes. Many think that is what they want. To top it all off, the County employee in charge of the project is a former MWH employee. Hey, New Orleans, can we borrow your Inspector General – right away – PLEASE?

Tess TruHart

Let’s not forget the “infamous” break in at MWH Los Osos office! All records, computers, etc. were stolen….Never to be found again! Now wasn’t THAT a stroke of luck for MWH. Nothing more was EVER mentioned of the “break in”. Again, our wonderful SLO County Sheriff’s Department doing their usual “OUTSTANDING” INVESTIGATIVE WORK. Yes, Corruption is alive & well in SLO County!


What the heck, seems par for the course of this god forsaken county, the CSD of Los Osos already stole $3,200 from me now they are doubling the water rates,,,, and now this!!!”The report arrived on Mayor Ray Nagin’s desk the same day his capital projects administrator, who had been warned for months about problems with MWH, resigned.” This project needs now to be put on hold, until there is a fiscal recovery within the economy, anyone who doesn’t agree, feel quite free to jump in and pay my share. I am especially speaking towards the California Mens Colony and Cuesta College. I’ll bet you do some more investigative reporting you will find a connection similar to the Miller,Gearhart-Bucknell,Snyhder-Cuesta title connection, within our city government and MWH. And yes I did alter the quote, can you see where and why?


This is what I’m talking about they settled the complaint with my money clearing the way for these jerks!,,,”(The pro-County LOCSD recently settled the complaint to clear the way for MWH’s selection by the County.)” No I’m not happy with this and I feel this will get the red stop sign, plus red marks for me, but I feel if the county of San Luis is taking over the project it should and shall be funded by the entire county of San Luis Obispo not just the few unlucky ones who were not voted out of the “KILL ZONE” by the previous corrupt CSD.


New thought, maybe the federal government should take over this project and build it with the CB,s, Construction Battalion, train their men in Los Osos, where it’s somewhat safe, we need Military intervention on this one, we are already one step away from Martial Law anyway, let our boys train in Los Osos and pay them for it, not some crook contractors who compare to Gearhart Development!