After multiple attempts by Niagara Falls Councillor Bob Gale to get some answers over the procurement of turbo blowers at the Port Dalhousie wastewater treatment plant, Gale got right to the heart of the matter this week at Public Works Committee.
The issue stems around the original procurement document being unilaterally altered by staff in removing APG Neuros in favour of Sulzer – a competitor to APG Neuros – in order to pilot the Sulzer turbo blower technology. APG Neuros was also inexplicably removed from the approved product list.
Presentations were received at the meeting by APG Neuros CEO Omar Hammound, by Landy Lu of Sulzer Pumps Canada and by Walter Kim of Turbowin America. Question and answer sessions with each following their presentations revealed a confused and inconsistent procurement process at the Region.
“I would acknowledge that there appears to be missteps through this process,” Bruce Zvaniga, Niagara Region’s interim commissioner of public works confessed to the committee.
The statement was in regard to a question posed by Gale asking whether APG Neuros indeed had the ability to appear before the Region’s ‘product review committee’ if its product was removed from the approved list.
According to Zvaniga, it was the direction of the former Director of Water and Wastewater services that removed the “category” of turbo blowers from the approved product list, not APG-Neuros specifically. APG-Neuros stated they had attempted to contact the Region numerous times with no success.
Gale took issue with the role of the product review committee versus senior staff. Quoting the product review committee’s terms of reference (the governing document outlining the purpose of the committee), Gale said that it was the “mandate” of the committee to “approve”, “conditionally approve the product”, or “not approve the product”.
“The product review committee has a terms of reference, but it isn’t supreme – it’s not the final decision- maker. “It’s an input to the divisional leadership team.”
The committee spent two hours speaking on the issue and hearing from the vendors offering information on their respective turbo blower technology, including Hammoud, CEO & President of APG – Neuros, a Canadian company that does business globally.
Mr. Hammoud had previously told the Niagara Independent that the Region had “tried to eliminate” APG Neuros from the Port Dalhousie plant upgrade procurement and that “they [Niagara Region] kept it secret and when the project came out for bid it was sole-sourced.”
To the distress of many councillors in attendance at the meeting, Hammoud’s internet connection was unstable complicating much of his presentation. Notwithstanding, at least one of his statements caught the ire of St. Catharines Mayor Walter Sendzik.
Gale had asked Hammoud whether he had ever interviewed a consultant that had previously been engaged by the Niagara Region. Hammoud responded ‘yes’.
“One of the things that attracted my attention [in the interview] but I didn’t want to pursue it was he said that it [Port Dalhousie plant upgrade issue] all happened because of close interactions between the representative of the other manufacturer and Regional staff,” he stated.
“It’s unfortunate we did not have the chance to visit the Region and offer a presentation – “
Sendzik raised a point of order and stopped Hammoud’s presentation.
“Speaker – please stop,” a visibly frustrated Sendzik told Hammoud. “To the Chair – you’ve got to control the meeting. There’s no one else in the conversation that the speaker is talking about – this is all hearsay right now.”
“Don’t even go down that road.”
Gale responded saying it is not hearsay if the information is coming directly from someone involved in the conversation.
St. Catharines Councillor Tim Rigby who chairs the committee, responded. “Be careful – I don’t think we’ve lost control by the way. Please keep to questions that we have directly to this issue.”
The meeting closed with no decision made by committee but was left with further parting words from Mayor Sendzik. First, he suggested to his fellow councillors that, “We support the information supplied by staff.” Nobody took Sendzik up on his request.
Following that comment, the St. Catharines Mayor said, “Making comments that this is being done unfairly and people have been treated unfairly and that creating some kind of image that the Region isn’t working well – I don’t think it does anybody any justice.”