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Commissioners debate, then agree

$38,000 penalty open for negotiation with Milltown bridge contractor

November 03, 2010
After some debate regarding the amount of excess days the contractor should be accountable for, the Crawford and Harrison County boards of commissioners Thursday evening approved the final change order for the new Milltown bridge that opened July 10.

The commissioners, meeting in joint session at the Crawford County Judicial Complex in English, however, withheld payment of $38,000 from the $187,592 requested because the project extended beyond the original completion date.

The contract called for a penalty of $1,000 for each work day the bridge, originally scheduled to open Dec. 20, 2009, was not ready for traffic.

"Obviously, this project ran well beyond its contractual days," Bob Woosley, of Heritage Engineering, said.

Woosley said that his company, in its review of the project, determined that the contractor, R.L. Vuckson Excavating Inc., should be held accountable for only 38 of the 201 days past the deadline.

He pointed to four major delays that weren't the fault of the contractor that totaled 163 days: the first (71 days) was because of flooding and continued heavy rainfall; the second (15 days) was because of unusually high snowfall totals; the third (31 days) was due to problems in attaining a signed utility agreement, as well as heavy rains; and the fourth (46) was because of underground utility lines not being where they were marked.

Greg Miller, also of Heritage Engineering, said Vuckson worked on some days when there was snow on the ground in an effort to get caught up.

The Harrison County commissioners indicated that the 38 days may be too much. Terry Miller noted that federal aid projects, which the Milltown bridge is not, do not count winter days as work days. James Goldman, chair of the board and whose district includes the Harrison County side of Milltown, added that the contractor wasn't given additional days after extra rock was discovered during excavation.

"You could make a case where those 38 days should go to zero," Woosley said.

Goldman's Crawford County counterpart Larry Bye, whose district includes his county's side of Milltown, wasn't in favor of reducing the penalty days and, instead, suggested there should be more.

"At the same token there's an argument that 38 days may be too high, I think there's an argument that could go up," he said.

Bye said that while there were issues beyond the contractor's control, such as flooding, he should have been more proactive when the river level was down, including working on both sides of the river.

"Some of these weather-related days wouldn't have been an issue if he had got in there and had a larger crew and did work on both sides at the same time," he said.

Woosley agreed that arguments could be made both for reducing and increasing the penalty days.

Bye added that the Dec. 20 deadline may not have been realistic to begin with, but "evidently (the contractor) thought it was doable, otherwise he wouldn't have agreed to it to start with."

Following more discussion, including that of tying approval of the change order to reaching an agreement on penalty days with the contractor, Goldman said the Harrison County commissioners believe that Vuckson should be paid the majority of the change order.

"I think what we'd like to do is at least come to an agreement, if we can, at least on paying the man some money," he said. "I mean, the bridge is done; it's completed. It's a beautiful bridge. I think the people in Milltown are very happy with it. The only ones who I talk to think it's great.

"We realize there's been problems, but we'd like to pay the man. There's been a lot of good-faith effort (put) into this, and I think we should show some good faith on our part. We'd like to pay him," he added. "If you all can't live with a certain amount (of) days, let's determine those days, subtract that out and leave that open for negotiations, but pay him for everything else."

Regarding the number of days to leave open for negotiation, Harrison County Commissioner Carl (Buck) Mathes said the contractor probably should have had more workers at the site, but he wasn't given enough days to begin with and having to work in the winter presents several challenges.

"I don't think he should near get penalized 38 days, I really don't," Mathes said. "I feel like, penalize him about five days, about $5,000 worth, and get settled up here and pay the man."

Bye said he couldn't agree to just five days but agreed with fellow Commissioner Randy Gilmore, who said the 38 days is a good place to begin negotiations.

"It's time to put it to rest," Bye said.

"I agree," Goldman added.

The Crawford County commissioners voted 3-0 to approve paying the change order minus $38,000 for the 38 penalty days. The approval, however, is contingent upon agreement of the Crawford County Council. The 38 days are open for negotiation with the contractor.

The Harrison County commissioners then voted 3-0 to do the same. The Harrison County Council already has approved the funding.

As with the case with the majority of the project, Harrison County will pay 60 percent of the majority of the change order, with Crawford County paying 40 percent.

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