Sewer project breaks budget

OLYMPIA – The final bill is in on the Henderson Boulevard sewer project, and it’s nearly $800,000 over budget.

The Olympia City Council this month tapped money from the city’s wastewater utility to cover the $798,000 shortfall, including cash from the pipe-capacity upgrades program and a program to manage STEP septic systems.

It’s the latest bad news related to the Henderson Bouelvard project, which lasted four months longer than expected and resulted in the city firing its first contractor on the project.

The work inconvenienced drivers, restricting traffic to one northbound lane from 7 a.m. – 5 p.m. weekdays between North Street and Yelm Highway. When work began in September, city officials said the $1.3 million project would be done by mid-November.

But the city terminated its contract with contractor Ro-Con Equipment Specialist of Black Diamond in January, citing “a pattern of not responding to significant issues in a timely manner.”

A key city concern was depressions it found in the sewer line that Ro-Con laid, where sediment could gather and reduce the effectiveness of pipes.

“We’re looking at all our … legal options to recover our costs,” said Rich Hoey, interim public works director. He deferred details to City Attorney Tom Morrill, who confirmed the city was looking to recoup its costs through outside council.

“We’ve just started looking into that process,” he said.

The city acted to terminate Ro-Con after a stop work order a month earlier. Correspondence obtained by The Olympian shows a list of concerns that the city had about the work dating to at least October.

Ro-Con hired a law firm to pursue a claim for “substantial money damages” according to an earlier email to The Olympian from Ken Cobley, the former project manager.

“Ro-Con did as it was asked and agreed to negotiate a deductive change order to help the City out. Weeks later, in clear violation of the construction contract, the city gave us an ultimatum: We were given 15 days to not only furnish the City with a mountain of detailed information, which the City kept the right to reject without explanation or reason, but also to repair recently discovered problems, most of which were caused by the City itself, not by Ro-Con.”

The city hired Active Construction of Tacoma to finish the job, including tearing out much of the work Ro-Con had done.

“In some respects, significant portions of the project have been constructed twice,” according to a city staff report.

Hoey said the council’s approval of the overages closes out Active’s part of the job. “They completed it within the time frame that we specified and they satisfactorily completed the work,” he said.

The amount approved by the council includes anticipated ongoing legal costs defending the city against Ro-Con’s claim.

Hoey said that tapping the wastewater utility wouldn’t affect any ongoing projects this year. “Depending upon our success with recovering costs, it could affect future projects,” he said.

Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869 mbatcheldor@theolympian.com