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    Oldsmar settles road job lawsuit

    The contractor that widened Tampa Road sued the city for its cost overruns. The DOT still must approve the deal.

    By ROBERT FARLEY, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published June 6, 2002

    OLDSMAR -- The City Council will pay $1.275-million to settle a 6-year-old dispute with a road construction company that claimed it ran over budget when it widened Tampa Road because the city provided faulty maps showing where water pipes were buried.

    Together with about $750,000 in legal fees paid by the city to defend the lawsuit, the total bill for taxpayers to resolve the issue comes to more than $400 for every household in Oldsmar.

    City Manager Bruce Haddock said the city has enough in its water and sewer fund, much of which comes from fees from developers, to cover the settlement.

    The project to widen Tampa Road from two to six lanes began in June 1996 and was completed in 1999, some 330 days late.

    Kimmins Contracting Corp., the state's contractor on the job, says utility plans supplied by the city did not accurately show where the city's underground water pipes were. That, the company says, resulted in costly delays. In 1999 Kimmins sued the Department of Transportation in Hillsborough County over the delays and related additional project costs. The DOT, in turn, brought Oldsmar into that case.

    The settlement agreement, which still needs DOT approval, also calls for FDOT to pay the contractor $1.275-million.

    It took until the eve of a trial to get all three sides to come to a settlement.

    "When it came down to crunch time, nobody wanted to go to trial," said Oldsmar Mayor Jerry Beverland.

    "You can't predict what would happen with a jury," said George E. Spofford IV, a Tampa lawyer hired to represent the city in the case.

    The city faced the possibility of a judgment against it for anywhere from $2.2-million to $8.9-million, Spofford said. Any large judgment against the city likely would lead to 18 months to two years of appeals, he said.

    "The opportunity to settle at just over $1.2-million . . . is the prudent thing to do," Spofford told the city council Tuesday. It is "all the more prudent," he said, because the city's primary witness, former city engineer Fred Schildhauer, died last year.

    City council members, who approved the settlement unanimously, said they wished they could have reached the settlement years ago. Two years ago, the city offered a settlement of $900,000 but their offer was rejected. Until recently, FDOT had insisted that all of the damages be paid by Oldsmar.

    "First off, DOT doesn't feel any problems associated with that project were caused by anything DOT did," DOT spokesman Dick Kane said Wednesday. "We paid in recognition of the uncertainty and risk associated with litigation. Even though we didn't do anything wrong, we faced a $7-million claim."

    Kimmins attorney John H. Rains III said the settlement agreement "encourages everyone not to say much about it."

    "All parties felt it was a fair resolution," Rains said.

    The bottom line, Spofford said, is that "this will be over with."

    Beverland said the city was glad to get the lawsuit behind it.

    "This whole thing has been so convoluted over the last six years, it's pathetic," Beverland said.

    As part of the settlement agreement, none of the sides admitted any fault, wrongdoing or culpability.

    "The settlement agreement is merely to minimize the additional expense and inconvenience to the parties that is associated with continuing litigation," the settlement states.

    Beverland said the mapping deficiencies are not the city employees' fault. The city did not begin accurately mapping underground utility pipes until the mid 1970s. Many of the pipes under Tampa Road were installed in the 1950s.

    "We're still finding pipes in the ground; we don't know what they're for," Beverland said.

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