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Road work may cost city extra $1-million

The contractor Brooksville hired to relocate utility lines in a road-widening project is claiming an additional $1.1-million.

By DAN DeWITT

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 21, 2001


BROOKSVILLE -- The City of Brooksville, which has already agreed to pay an extra $630,000 to the company it hired to move utility lines on S Broad Street, might have to pay it an additional $1.1-million.

The city knew the contractor -- Smith & Co. of Weston -- would ask for more money, said Mayor Joe Johnston III, but it did not know how much more. Unlike the previous claims, Johnston said, the city does not have money on hand to pay the latest request.

"Not only is it eating up our reserves, it is threatening to go a million bucks over," he said.

Public Works Director Emory Pierce told the council about the claim at Monday's meeting. He also said the city should end up paying considerably less than Smith is asking, though he did not know how much less. The process of deciding that will begin next week, when he will meet with representatives of Smith & Co. and the state Department of Transportation.

He did not sound optimistic that the two sides would reach an agreement.

"Based on our great differences . . . I'm almost positive this will proceed to the DOT arbitration process," Pierce said.

The claim is the most recent in a long line of disputes with Smith & Co., which the state is paying $20-million to widen the State Road 50 truck bypass and Broad Street. Brooksville hired the company to relocate its utilities on these roads, originally a $2.6-million job, partly because DOT assured the city it would be faster and cheaper than bringing in an outside firm, Johnston said.

The city has committed to paying $630,000 in change orders because of what Smith & Co. said were flaws with the information provided by the city, including plans for the relocation work drawn up by Coastal Engineering Associates Inc.

Among the additional expenses: buying and installing water meters, valves, fire hydrants and 21 pipes that serve individual businesses on S Broad Street; the company also said it had to work around existing utility lines that were in different locations than the plans showed.

These costs have consumed most of the $700,000 in extra money the city set aside for the project. It will have to look for other sources to pay for the additional claims, said Finance Director B.J. Coryer, including a short-term loan. The city's current overall reserve fund, about $400,000, would not cover the claim as it stands now, he said.

The new claim comes from the delays all the additional work caused: 254 days, or more than eight months, at $4,500 per day, according to the company. Pierce told the council he will contest both these figures, arguing that the delay was neither as long nor as expensive as Smith & Co. has claimed.

In August, Smith & Co. informed the state the project was 151 days -- or about five months -- behind schedule, pushing the projected completion date from July of this year to December. If the project is as far behind as Smith & Co. now says, the job, which began about 18 months ago, will not be finished for about another year.

That is one thing that will be discussed at the meeting next week, said Kris Carson, a DOT spokeswoman.

In the future, said Johnston and City Council member Joe Bernardini, the city also should discuss whether Coastal should pay part of Smith & Co.'s claim, especially as the costs mount.

Pierce acknowledged that some of the problems stem from bad information the city provided; in the past he had said that other problems were because the DOT provided incorrect information about what should be included in the plans.

Still, Bernardini said, "that definitely needs to be explored. It's a substantial amount of money."

Coastal president Cliff Manuel said he did not know about the additional claims from Smith & Co. He also said the city, not Coastal, had handled the daily oversight of the job.

"We have not been inside the loop for some time now," Manuel said. "So I'm not familiar enough with what Emory presented to the council last night to offer an intelligent comment."

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