BARSTOW - The new technology of a firm hoping to win the bid to build the city's wastewater treatment plant upgrade contract has been approved by an outside consultant.

In October, the city hired consulting firm Bureau Veritas to review the qualifications and proposal of Micromedia Filtration Inc., which the city is considering for the project.

In a report given to the council on Monday, Bureau Veritas found deficiencies in the draft contract Micromedia presented but gave a satisfactory review of the wastewater processing technique used by the company.

"We found no quarrel at all with the technology," said Roy Peterson, a principal with Bureau Veritas. "It's an emerging technology, but we found nothing in the technology that concerns us."

Peterson said that despite concerns that Micromedia is not a licensed contractor and lacks the financial resources to complete the project on its own, company officials said they would partner with other parties to get the job done. Using the information in the report, if Micromedia is selected for the project, the legal language in the contract can be written to meet the city's needs, he said.

"Most of this had to do with getting the right protections for the city in the contract," Peterson said.

Micromedia will not automatically be awarded the contract and will have to compete with other firms in an open bidding process. A firm for the project could be selected as early as June, Peterson said.

Also at the meeting, Peterson acknowledged that members of his firm paid for a dinner for four members of the City Council and City Economic Development Director Ron Rector while they were attending the California League of Cities Conference in Sacramento in September. Peterson said the dinner was strictly social and no city business was discussed.

"The meeting that we had in Sacramento was only an introduction meeting," he said. "I can also say that that restaurant was very noisy, and I didn't hear much of what was said on the other side of the table."

While she declined to speak directly about the meeting, City Attorney Yvette Abich said that dinners at which city business is not discussed is not a violation of the Brown Act, California's open meeting law. She said the law grants exemptions for council members to attend social and ceremonial events without posting an agenda to the public.

On Monday, the council voted 4 to 1 to approve the contract with Bureau Veritas for up to $160,000 to review the qualifications and proposals of other interested firms for the wastewater project.

Council member Joe Gomez, who is opposed to using Micromedia for the project, voted against the contract, saying that too much money has already been spent. Gomez made a motion to rehire the city's previous wastewater contractor, HDR Inc., but the motion was not accepted.

Micromedia CEO Sam Luxenberg said that although he hasn't seen the Bureau Veritas report, he's confident that his firm, with its $15 million bid, will be able to win the contract.

"I still think we can install our system to handle what the city needs, done cheaper than anyone else can do it with modern technology," he said.

Luxenberg said that while the city's July 2009 deadline to complete the project mandated by the regional water board will be tight, he thinks his company can deliver the facility on time.

"It's going to be real tight. If everything goes right, yes. Can we guarantee it? - no. Do I think its possible? - yes. I know our process and our design can be built within the timeline," he said.

Despite passing the consultant's review, some in attendance at the meeting still are concerned about granting the contract to Micromedia.

"I thought it was interesting that it took (Micromedia) two months to give Bureau Veritas the information," said Carmen Hernandez, a planning commissioner and frequent speaker at council meetings. "It's clear (Micromedia) does not have their act together. When you look at the contract deficiencies, there are very large concerns."

The city spent $1.7 million on engineering drawings before voting on July 18 to cancel the contract with HDR. The council chose to switch to Micromedia because some members think the firm can save the city money. Micromedia representatives say its plan for the facility would save the city $1,183,600 annually in operating costs or potentially reduce each resident's sewer bill by $11 a month.

The Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board mandated upgrades to the wastewater-treatment facility because of elevated nitrate levels in the water. The city could face fines of anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000 per day if the July 2009 deadline is not met.

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