Addison, the small town known for entertainment, restaurants and a cool reputation, took a step too far.
Leaders decided in 2009 they wanted to build a new water tower on the west side of town, and on top they wanted to place eight wind turbines. No one else in Texas had done this.
They hired an artist to design the project. He promised that when people see it, “They will know they are in Addison.”
The goal, city officials said, was to show their commitment to the environment, create enough electricity to power the water tower and maybe the street lights on nearby Arapaho Road, too.
Most of all, they wanted a functional public-works project to double as a work of art.
So how did it go?
It was a $1.1 million flop. A waste of taxpayers’ money. The focus of a lawsuit that could, if the city loses, cost taxpayers even more in legal fees.
Oh, the water tower near Arapaho Road and Surveyor Boulevard works fine. The turbines on top? They kept falling off and could have killed somebody.
For The Watchdog, this is an example of how public officials like to spend taxpayers’ money on fanciful projects because it’s not their money. Elaborate school administration buildings, city halls that look like monuments and now this.
In this case, city officials didn’t know what they were doing because, in fairness, no one in Texas had ever created such a project.
The town counted on outside experts – Freese and Nichols engineers, Urban Green Energy for turbines and Landmark Structures to handle the construction.
The city claims in its lawsuit that Landmark and UGE let the city down. The companies’ lawyers say the defendants tried to make things right, but the city was no longer interested.
Who wins may depend on one star witness who turned on his own people.
Turbines keep falling
The turbines ran for three months before one blade fell to the ground 190 feet below.
Then a second blade crashed through a nearby storage building’s roof, falling into a conference room. No one was hurt.
The city asked the builders to remove the contraption and rebuild it. That happened.
Then another blade came loose. Someone possibly shot a bullet through it, court records show.
That was the last straw. The city shut down the system. For now, it remains atop the water tower. Not one kilowatt of electricity is generated.
The system hasn’t been removed because a trial in the city’s lawsuit against Landmark Structures and UGE is pending. The project is “decommissioned,” city spokesman Dan Reed says. Eventually, after the case ends, it will come down, he says.
The city is asking the two companies for $1 million in damages to cover the taxpayers’ loss. The city’s lawyer claims that fraud was involved because promised electrical power never materialized.
The city is going to have a tough time proving fraud. For one thing, city leaders awarded a $100,000 bonus to Landmark for early completion of the project. Former and current city employees said in trial depositions that city officials were lenient toward their outside experts. The city cannot produce written evidence that electricity output was promised.
In a big blow to the city’s case, former city manager Ron Whitehead, who served in that role for 32 years before retiring in 2014, testified in his deposition that he did not see any evidence of fraud.
He testified that Landmark fulfilled its obligations “and frankly, we were impressed with how well they responded.”
The former city manager is a star witness for the other side. When the former big boss doesn’t back up his ex-employer’s legal case, that’s a problem.
Another problem: The city was unable to keep its promise for a grant it received. Addison received a $472,000 federal energy conservation grant awarded through the North Texas Council of Governments.
In the grant application, the city promised, “The project is estimated to generate 68,400 kilowatt hours per year.” Enough electricity to power the water tower and more.
City officials say they have talked to the grant providers and they do not have to return the money.
Yet another problem: Addison officials did not keep emails related to the project, even though the water tower flop was headed toward an eventual lawsuit.
The Watchdog believes this is a classic example of how a city goes about losing a lawsuit.
The artwork was supposed to be an iconic project for the little town with big ambitions. There’s a reason, sometimes, why it’s not good to be the first to try something new.
The trial is scheduled for March 5.
Staff writer Marina Trahan Martinez contributed to this report.
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