On the eve of an expensive trial, the wackiest lawsuit in these parts involving one of our star cities is headed toward a much-welcomed ending.
But terms of settlement for Addison’s failed $1 million wind turbine art exhibit atop a city water tower are still secret.
You read that right.
The Watchdog hates secrets, especially when they involve taxpayers’ dollars.
With this project, Addison tried to build a tribute to the environment, to art and to itself when it plopped turbines high in the sky. The city promised enough electricity generated to run the water tower and even power streetlights along Arapaho Road. Never happened.
Even worse, after the initial installation, a turbine 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.
Then a third blade came loose, possibly from a gunshot or high winds.
The turbines are still up there, but they’re in lockdown mode.
The city sued the installer, the supplier and the engineering firm for $1 million. The trial was supposed to begin this week. It was canceled when the parties agreed to the still-secret settlement, which a judge must still sign off on.
Good move for both sides since each had glaring weaknesses that would have made them look incompetent. City officials didn’t know how to handle such a unique project, the first of its kind in Texas. The hired hands building the project – Landmark Structures, Urban Green Energy and Freese and Nichols – never got it right.
Every day, thousands of drivers pass the broken turbines and see them atop the water tower near Arapaho Road and Surveyor Boulevard on the west side of town.
Here are five things you should know about this million-dollar flop:
1. It’s a secret. How annoying for taxpayers that they can’t yet learn if they won or lost this lawsuit. How much money did they recoup? Who pays legal fees? Who pays to remove the monstrosities?
The City Council voted last month to approve a settlement. Dallas lawyer Doug Lukasik, who was prepared to try the case for the city, tells The Watchdog, “There’s no formal settlement agreement at this time, and that is in the process of being reached.”
In a telephone interview, Addison Mayor Joe Chow said, “Due to the confidentiality from the other side, I couldn’t comment too much, but I can guarantee you that council and I made a very good decision and settled this deal.
“All I can say is we recovered as much as we could. It’s a pretty good settlement. I’m very pleased with the outcome, but I couldn’t release the details.”
When will the details become public?
“We can’t do that until we are certain the other party [Landmark Structures] is willing to disclose that. That’s all I can tell you now.”
If Landmark, the installer, doesn’t want to disclose, can the settlement be kept secret? No.
I checked with the Texas Attorney General’s office. Under law, the settlement should become public when the deal is final because a government is involved.
2. It’s flat out weird. Putting eight wind turbines atop a 19-story water tower is a unique idea. Designer Brad J. Goldberg initially explained that when people see it, “They’ll know they’re in Addison.”
Give the city credit for trying something new. The turbines, when they spun, were attention-grabbing. But this flop plays out atop the city’s tallest perch. It’s not one you can sweep under a rug.
3. Failed promises. To help fund the extravagance, the city received a $472,000 federal energy conservation grant awarded through the all-powerful North Central Texas Council of Governments.
In the grant application, the city promised, “The project is estimated to generate 68,400 kilowatt hours per year.” Enough to power the water tower and more.
Apparently grants for failed projects are like baseball player salaries. You can have a stinky year, but you don’t have to give back any salary.
4. Addison government practices. Addison is an extraordinary town, but it didn’t get that way through the incompetence shown here. I read the deposition transcripts in the case and it’s clear: City leaders didn’t know what they were doing in this pioneering project from start to finish.
Should the long-ago council have authorized the risky project? (Back then, in 2009, Mayor Chow was the only one who voted against it.)
Should city leaders have shown a firmer hand in dealing with the outside companies who kept letting them down (including awarding a $100,000 bonus to Landmark)?
Should the city have even sued to begin with? Testimony reveals the city’s less than stellar record-keeping practices. Relevant interoffice emails needed for the case may have been deleted for storage reasons.
5. The future. Those blades are coming down. That’ll be part of the settlement. We don’t know when or who’s paying yet.
If the mayor’s guarantee is an indication, the city will get some money. We don’t know who will pay the legal fees, which should be high since the case was a week away from trial.
One thing is certain. Addison politics are as sharp as a turbine blade. This flop, this lawsuit, the settlement – whatever it is – will certainly be a core issue in Addison’s May city election.
Staff writer Marina Trahan Martinez contributed to this report.
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