Work Will Resume
by Troubled Contractor
Sussex County Online Publisher
GEORGETOWN -- The good news for Ocean View residents is that construction will finally resume on the sewer system that was supposed to be completed next month.
The bad news is that Ocean View residents will have to put up with the company that has plagued the town from the moment it started digging holes in the town's streets in November, 1999.
At its regular meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2000, Sussex County Council voted unanimously to pass a tender agreement allowing Bearing Construction, formerly L.A. Merrell of Sudlersville, Md., to finish the Ocean View Sanitary Sewer District work it has fallen months behind on.
Sussex County Engineer Michael Izzo told council that Bearing Construction will finish the project with Teal Construction of Dover acting as a sub-contractor under terms of the agreement forged by the bonding company, Fireman's Fund Insurance Company of Philadelphia.
For 13 months, Ocean View residents have endured problems ranging from a lack of progress, to laying more than 1,100 feet of pipe incorrectly, to traffic backups caused by the closing of more than one main road in the town at a time, to near-misses on the roads from inept traffic directions.
According to Izzo, the county has paid L.A. Merrell $2.4 million of the original $7.1 million contract and has outstanding invoices totalling $230,000, leaving a total unpaid balance of $4,674,141.32.
Izzo said the original contract called for the project to be completed in 420 days, or by January 8, 2001. "That's a reasonable amount of time to complete the work under the contract for a competent contractor," said Izzo.
As is stands now, however, Bearing and Teal are not expected to be finished until Aug. 15, 2001. The county will enforce a clause in the original contract calling for liquidated damages of $700 a day for each day the project is behind schedule.
Merrell has blamed a shortage of employees caused by the tight job market for the delays.
Under terms of the agreement, Bearing Construction will complete 33 percent of the remaining pipelines and the three pumping stations and Teal will finish the remaining 67 percent of the pipelines. Essentially, Bearing will complete piping south of Route 26 and Teal will work north of Route 26.
When questioned by council members about why the county would enter into another agreement with the former L.A. Merrell company, Izzo said no local contractors bid on the project because they didn't want to step into a situation that could result in legal action.
At the same time, Bearing's bid of $8.4 million was also "significantly" lower than bids from two New Jersey companies. Izzo said that Fireman's Fund Insurance will pay the difference between the remaining $4.6 million from the original contract and the $8.4 million of the new contract, or $3.8 million.
"The obvious question, the followup question that I've asked myself, is 'Why do we want to get back into this situation with L.A. Merrell?' ", said Izzo. "The first reason is because the alternatives aren't any better."
Izzo said it was apparent early on that Merrell "was experiencing some difficulties initiating work on the Route 26 corridor ... the time being made was slow relative to other contractors that we're familiar in dealing with." Izzo said Merrell also had difficulty with the restoration process and maintaining access to commercial properties.
Then, after a pledge from Merrell to make improvements, Cliff Merrell, owner of L.A. Merrell, called in June 2000 to say he was shutting the project down and not "laying another stick of pipe".
Izzo said the county called Fireman's Fund Insurance to put the bonding company on notice. Later in June, Izzo said, Merrell called back and pledged to "begin anew, with a new plan for dealing with things, and things were going to get better."
Izzo said the engineering department decided to delay legal proceedings at that point but that over the summer, Merrell, despite making some improvements, had not made legitimate progress.
Around Labor Day, Izzo said Fireman's Fund Insurance Company decided to take the project over. The county and Fireman's Fund agreed to allow Merrell to continue working on the project while they looked for a new contractor.
Merrell was able to finish work on Route 26 and hook up the Holts Landing Sanitary Sewer District while the search for a replacement firm continued.
Fireman's Fund submitted a tender agreement to the county on Nov. 16 to reassign the finishing work to a finishing contractor. When the bids came in, however, the only bidders were Bearing Construction (the former L.A. Merrell) and two firms from New Jersey that Izzo said he had no faith in.
The decision was then made to go with Bearing Construction as the primary contractor and Teal Construction, a company the county has had positivie experiences with in the past, as a subcontractor to finish the project.
In a related matter, Izzo said construction of the Cedar Neck Sanitary Sewer District, which has been delayed by the problems with the Ocean View system, will begin around Sept. 1, 2000, and conclude in December of 2002 if the Ocean View project finishes on time.
Izzo said construction on Cedar Neck can't begin now because work would cause too many roads in the area to be torn up and because the Sussex County Engineering Department is tied up with the Ocean View project.
Airport Terminal Building ...
Thirteen companies attended a mandatory bid meeting for construction of a terminal building at the Sussex County Airport, according to Project Engineer Derek Sapp.
Sapp told council that bids will be awarded Jan. 11, 2001, and that construction should begin around Feb. 12, 2001. Sapp said the 6,150-square foot facility could be completed by October, 2001.
Councilman George Cole expressed reservations about a planned restaurant in the building. Sapp said the restaurant should attract flying groups that meet at an airport for breakfast or lunch but that if the restaurant did fail, the space could be converted for other uses.
The wood-frame building with steel sub-structure will include a state-of-the-art conference facility, Sapp said. Sapp said the exterior will include cedar shake vinyl on the tower and regular horizontal vinyl siding on the remainder of the building.
Sapp also said that construction on a terminal apron for airplane parking should begin during the construction of the terminal building. That project is being designed by Delta Airport Consultants.
Oak Orchard Sewer ...
Council unanimously approved a request from the county's Engineering and Finance departments to apply for loans and grants from the Rural Development Agency to help defray the costs of the Oak Orchard Sanitary Sewer District project.
David Baker, the county's finance director, told council that the agency has expressed an interest in the project and that the engineering and finance departments are particularly interested in the grant portion of the package.
Baker said that since last year's estimate of $726 per user per year, the county has reduced the cost of the sewer district to $595 per year.
"Our goal with this project, as it is always, is to obtain grants and low-interest loans to reduce our user costs," said Baker.
Baker said the county has also requested a low-interest loan and grant from the state of Delaware and anticipates that the state's Water Advisory Committee will act on that request in January, 2001.
In addition, Baker said the county has been approved for a $962,000 HUD Disaster Recovery Initiative grant and that an additional $100,000 from a county realty transfer tax grant was approved for this year's budget by council.
Councilman Vance Phillips noted that the state had pledged a $2 million grant to the project to reduce the costs to $595 per year and questioned that with the additional $962,000 HUD grant already reducing the cost to $595 a year, would the state still contribute $2 million to reduce the cost even further.
County Engineer Michael Izzo said his department has told the state that it still wants the full $2 million.
Administrator's Report ...
In other business ...
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