Blaine city council OKs additional $42K for wastewater project

Published on Wed, Feb 29, 2012 by Jeremy Schwartz

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The city of Blaine will shell out about $42,000 more for work on a project that has encountered a number of delays since late 2011.

The wastewater conveyance project, which will eventually connect the aging Semiahmoo treatment plant with the larger treatment facility at the west end of Marine Drive, has been plagued by material delays and a broken sewer line that added $119,647 to the project’s price tag. At Monday’s Blaine City Council meeting, city council unanimously approved two additional contract amendments totaling $42,292, after some council members expressed reservations about spending the money.

Bill Bullock, Blaine’s acting public works director, said the two contract amendments were needed for the additional time
construction management firm Wilson Engineering, based in Bellingham, and Seattle-based engineering design firm Tetra Tech, Inc., have spent working on the project. The city will pay an additional $25,700 to Tetra Tech, bumping the firm’s total contract amount to $892,240, and $16,592 to Wilson Engineering, increasing their contract to $241,491.

According to the amendments, Tetra Tech’s contract has been amended nine times since March 26, 2009, while Wilson Engineering’s contract has been changed on four occasions. Bullock said the project was supposed to be all but wrapped up at the end of 2011, but delays in acquiring materials pushed the project into winter, which effectively halted progress.

Blaine City Council member Clark Cotner said he was surprised to see winter weather delays and a lack of materials as the reasons given for lags in the project. He said his experience in the private contractor realm has shown him contractors typically agree to be paid a certain amount and run the risk of not getting paid for additional work if costs run over.

“It looks like the city is getting played for money,” Cotner said.

Blaine City Council member Charlie Hawkins disagreed. He said the city council has to put a certain amount of trust in the city’s staff to use the most accurate information and make recommendations to council. He said he’s willing to accept the additional expenditures if city staff tell him they’re needed.

Blaine city manager Gary Tomsic said he understood the city council’s concerns, but assured them the additional work was necessary. He said he could understand how the costs could be seen as the contractors price-gouging the city but is confident that is not happening.

“The elements you’re being asked to approve are all justifiable,” Tomsic said.

Cotner said he would have more easily supported the contract amendments if detailed information had been provided in the documents distributed to council members. The only reasons given on the Tetra Tech contract amendment were for weather and material delays, which Cotner said contractors should expect.

The project encountered the most serious delays at the end of the year when a section of old, unused sewer pipe beneath Drayton Harbor broke. The project calls for new 10-inch sewer pipe to be threaded through the older pipe. This process, called sliplining, hit a snag when the force of the test pipe being pushed through broke the old pipe a few yards from Marine Drive.

As requested by city council, Bullock provided a cost estimate on the only alternative to sliplining the new pipe through the old: boring a new hole under Drayton Harbor. City council members had asked why this idea was not considered when they were presented with the $119,647 change order at their February 13 meeting.

According to an estimate from Tetra Tech, the boring process would cost the city approximately $1.9 million in contractor design, labor and equipment. This amount did not include project permitting, which Bullock estimated would cost an additional $100,000.

Blaine public works staff expect the entire project to be done by May. Once completed, the city will be able to close the Semiahmoo treatment plant and return most of the property comprising the plant to the Lummi tribe.