EAST GULL LAKE -- It's been jokingly referred to as "Watergate," but the multiple problems surrounding the construction of East Gull Lake's $2.3 million wastewater collection project remain no laughing matter for city officials.
The city's wastewater committee met for three hours Wednesday with its contractor and project manager, as well as the city's newly hired construction attorney and engineering consultant, to attempt to resolve the issues that have plagued the project.
The city temporarily halted construction of the project at the June 7 city council meeting after the city found several noncompliance issues and work deficiencies. The city also has refused payment of $251,000 owed to Aspen Construction of Hackensack and a payment of about $40,000 owed to its consulting firm, Howard R. Green Co. The city temporarily stopped construction of the project for 10 days in June because of those work deficiencies. The city has paid about $1.4 million for the project so far, which was expected to be completed by April 2006.
Committee members Wednesday told Brad Baird, president of Aspen Construction, they were appreciative that he came before the committee, provided new information and a genuine willingness to complete the work and correct the work deficiencies. They repeatedly told Baird and project manager Jeff Rhoda of Howard R. Green Co. that they needed to work on better communication between both firms to help foster trust and confidence from the city.
Rhoda gave committee members an update on the project, including additional information provided by Aspen Construction that contradicted earlier reports that made many in the city lose faith in the integrity of the project.
There have been many issues that city officials have said made them lose confidence in the project, including failing wastewater connections, roadways that weren't compacted properly before replacing pavement that created noticeable dips, grinder station tanks that weren't placed on 600-pound concrete ballasts anchoring the tanks and improper erosion control and turf application procedures.
For many weeks, city officials believed that when the collection system's new wastewater connections on the Pine Beach Peninsula this spring were tested, it experienced a 40 percent failure rate. Baird said Wednesday 5 percent of the wastewater connections failed out of the 53 connections on the peninsula and the leaks were found and fixed. Baird said several holes needed to be dug to find and repair damage to existing pipes because borers accidentally struck them, but it wasn't because of the connections.
Baird said he and his employees were doing what they were told to do by the former project manager from Howard R. Green Co., who was subsequently replaced on the project and fired from the firm. Baird said the former project manager had told his staff that compaction testing on the roadways wasn't required and authorized Baird's subcontractor, Anderson Brothers, to begin paving on the Pine Beach Peninsula two days after it rained, causing further dips in the roadway as it settled.
Rhoda previously conceded that the previous project manager made judgment calls out in the field that contradicted the city's contract, which was designed by Howard R. Green Co.
"Last fall we thought we were doing what you wanted," said Baird. "This spring we learned differently."
Committee members were given a detailed list of which grinder station tanks received ballasts and those that did not from the contractor's superintendent's notes. Baird in a July 8 memo stated there were a total of 65 tanks without ballasts that were installed, 56 of them installed at higher elevations in dry soil and nine tanks installed in possibly wet conditions. There are 222 tanks to be installed in the project.
"I'm grateful, guys," said committee member Tom Forsythe, of the new information. "But why didn't we have this before? If somebody would have given this to us weeks ago we could have had a rational discussion."
Forsythe said the information still needs to be verified and a paper trail created so that years from now the city can justify why changes were made during the construction of its wastewater collection system.
"We need to know that all of those undocumented field decisions made good sense," said Forsythe. "I don't think anyone in this room knows that."
"It was stupid on your part," said Marty Carlson, East Gull Lake City Council member and wastewater committee chair, to Baird for not having documentation from the previous project manager on why changes were made during construction.
"Extremely," responded Baird. "You have no idea."
Wastewater committee member John Simons said he was disturbed by comments made and a letter sent to the city from Ralph Russell, president of Howard R. Green Co., who attended last week's wastewater committee meeting. Simons said it appeared that Russell was not taking responsibility for the fact that his former employee made several mistakes and appeared to blame Baird for the problems.
"When are we going to find out when H.R. Green is going to take responsibility?" asked Simons. "After we bankrupt Brad and go to court?"
The committee set a special wastewater committee meeting for 3 p.m. July 26 to further discuss the construction project and to consider paying Aspen Construction for work completed since June 20, strictly adhering to the city's contract. Baird said his company needs to be paid for the work that has been completed during the last month so he can get back the subcontractors who stopped working on the project. Both Rhoda and Baird agreed that by the Aug. 1 city council meeting they would have a detailed plan on how to resolve corrections in previous work.
JODIE TWEED can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5858.
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