After postponing action on the hiring of a consultant twice, Palo Alto County Supervisors took the step of hiring Don Etler of Algona to fill the position during a meeting Tuesday morning.
Etler, who was the original project engineer on a project in Drainage District 15 of Palo Alto County, parted ways with his employer, the I&S?Group, at the end of 2012. Details of the departure were sketchy at the time, and the Board of Supervisors was unhappy with the turn of events.
After talks with Etler and representatives of the I&S Group, an agreement was reached between the two parties allowing Etler to work on the project, in accordance with the wishes of the Palo Alto County Supervisors.
However, a question over liability insurance arose, prompting the supervisors to ask Etler and a representative of I&S Group to appear before the board to resolve the issue.
Tuesday morning, Kent Rode of I&S joined his former colleague Etler in the Supervisors' board room.
"Basically, what we want to know is if Don is covered by your liability insurance when he works on this project, and who covers any fines that may be levied," stated Supervisor Jerry Hofstad.
"In our business, sub-consultants like Don carry their own liability insurance,"?Rode answered. "I&S?has a $2 million Professional Liability policy."
"The standard sub-consultant liability policy is $1 million," Etler added. "That's what I have."
Rode noted that I&S holds umbrella liability insurance coverage of $4 million, which does not include professional liability. "That would cover vehicles and the like," Rode said. "But, rest assured, you are covered for anything we do for you or Don does as he works for us."
With the DD15 project under the cloud of possible fines from the Environmental Protection Agency, the question of liability for the fines was raised by the board again.
Etler explained to the board that the problem came when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers refused to accept a wetland determination on lands owned by Dick Wikert, which were included in the project area. Because the determination was refused, a new determination had to be obtained, slowing a permitting process by the Corps of Engineers.
In the meantime, bids for the project were let and due to funding deadlines, work began without the formal issuance of the permit. Now, the EPA is reviewing the permitting process, with the possibility of assessing a fine against the district.
"If anything was done wrong on the permit, I was covered at that time by I&S's liability insurance at that time, and they would have to cover any fine,"?Etler said.
Rode agreed with the statement. "Don was an employee of I&S?at that time so our insurance would cover that instance."
"So, are we going to get slapped over this?" asked Supervisor Linus Solberg.
"I suspect there will be something - a great plan to finish the project and then a letter with a fine from the EPA," Etler answered. "That's when you decide whether to fight or not. We aren't without arrows in this fight, either. But, it's possible there might not be a penalty, too."
"So, if there were a penalty, you were an employee of I&S?at that time, right?" Hofstad reiterated.
"Any fine levied by the EPA would be covered by us,"?Rode added.
On a motion by Supervisor Keith Wirtz and a second from Hofstad, Don Etler was hired to serve as the consultant for the DD15 North project on a 4-0 vote of the board, with Supervisor Ed Noonan absent and not voting.