Auditor to Council: 3 problems with BES building

City commissioners reviewing audit, director's suspended status

The Portland Bureau of Environmental Service's Columbia Boulevard Wastewater Treatment Plant, March 2014 (KOIN 6 News)
The Portland Bureau of Environmental Service's Columbia Boulevard Wastewater Treatment Plant, March 2014 (KOIN 6 News)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN 6) — Portland’s City Council discussed extravagant spending at one of the city’s facilities and was briefed on a subsequent department head suspension Tuesday morning.

A city audit report — brought forth after a KOIN 6 investigation — confirmed that the construction of a Bureau of Environmental Services office building ballooned to more than $12.5 million despite an original estimate of $3 million.

A tour through the Columbia Boulevard Wastewater Treatment Plant Support Facility in May revealed luxury carpet, a high-cost tile mosaic and two chairs priced at $1,900 a piece, among dozens of other questionable expenditures.

EXTRA: Where the money went

The Portland City Council discusses an audit of the BES building, Oct. 28, 2014 (KOIN 6 News)
The Portland City Council discusses an audit of the BES building, Oct. 28, 2014 (KOIN 6 News)

Auditor Lavonne Griffin-Valade and senior management auditor Beth Woodward told commissioners there were three major problems with the BES building:

— The scope of the project ballooned during the process
— There were weaknesses in oversight during the design and construction
— BES turned the project from an office building into a showcase of sustainability

Throughout the process, the price tag rose and many of those increases were green-lighted without approval from City Council.

MORE: Read the full audit

“The Bureau of Environmental Services does a great job replacing sewer pipes and building bioswales, and doing the things that the public expects,” Fish said Tuesday. “I think the lesson here is that, in building a showcase building like this is outside their core competence, and I think the cost overruns reflect that.”

Commissioner Nick Fish placed BES Director Dean Marriott on paid administrative leave last week and ordered an outside investigation into the cost discrepancy. That investigation should be completed by the end of the year.

There is no indication when Marriott will return.

Fish, who did not oversee the BES at the time of the building’s approval or construction, said the facility’s cost troubles him “as commissioner in charge,” “as a resident,” and “as a rate payer.”

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