Dispute drags on over costs for first mile of STO trail

The city of Bainbridge Island is still locked in a payment dispute with the construction company that built the “first mile” of the Sound to Olympics Trail, more than 18 months after the bike-and-walking trail alongside Highway 305 opened to the public.

Nordland Construction Northwest of Port Townsend was awarded the construction contract for the nearly mile-long segment of the trail in January 2017.

Nordland, however, has maintained that the construction company has done much more work than it was paid for under its original $2.1 million contract.

The problem, the company claims, was due to a “design failure” on the project, which required steel pilings much longer than the ones called for in the design. The oversight knocked the project months off schedule and left construction officials scrambling for ways to stabilize the paved trail, which partly runs along a ravine on the east side of Highway 305.

Neither city nor Nordland officials offered detailed comment on the dispute.

“The city is still working to resolve this dispute,” City Manager Morgan Smith said in an email when asked for comment by the Review.

The “first mile” of the Sound to Olympics Trail is actually an .8-mile-long segment that stretches from the corner of Winslow Way and Highway 305 north to the intersection of Highway 305 and High School Road. A ceremonial groundbreaking ceremony was held in early March 2017, and construction began on

March 13, 2017. The trail opened to the public Jan. 26, 2018.

The closeout of the project was expected more than six months ago.

Final completion of the project (all work completed, including paperwork) had been expected to wrap up by Jan. 26, 2019, at the end of the “plant establishment period” (landscaping maintenance such as weeding and watering), according to Chris Hammer, engineering manager in the city’s public works department.

City officials, however, are still trying to close the books on the project.

The dispute centers on pile-driving work done during the trail’s construction.

Nordland began raising concerns about the costs of additional piling that was needed in fall 2017, and said piling work was delaying construction of the project and the building of a bridge for the trail.

In a September 2017 letter from the construction company to the city, Nordland submitted an $82,255 claim for additional piling that had been requested by the project’s engineer.

In a follow-up letter two weeks later, Nordland said the project’s original schedule envisioned steel piling work being completed by June 9, but “weather, subcontractor availability and other job sequencing” required the pile installation to be moved to early July.

Nordland said initial pile-driving operations were finished by July 14, 2017, but the engineer asked for additional pile testing, and later told the contractor to order more piling material. Nordland said the new piling could not be delivered to the construction site until that September, and also told the city that the piling hammer used by its subcontractor, Clark Crane Company, was not available due to the “busy nature of the construction season.”

Nordland repeatedly said in its communications with the city that the additional piling work was due to “failure of design” for the trail project, according to documents made available by a public records request by the Review.

As piling work continued into November 2017, Nordland again said in a letter that the project had been improperly designed.

In the letter, Nordland president Thomas Johnson noted the piles ordered for the project were not long enough, and 45 of 82 piles “had been spliced onto with an additional 10ft of length.”

Johnson added that when 15 of the piles were driven into the earth at the project site on Nov. 2, none met the “resistance criteria” needed for construction.

“As previously stated, we do not believe a thorough geotech investigation was done on this job to sufficient depth,” Johnson wrote.

“There is a design failure on this pile design and plan,” he added. “The direction given to add additional pile length has turned into an exploratory exercise.”

“Again, the contractor endeavors to help solve the problems and build the work as directed, but needs to be compensated for the changed work,” Johnson concluded.

As the dispute continued into 2018, Nordland again raised concerns about the extra pile work ordered by the city’s engineer on the project.

In public, though, the city was celebrating the success of getting the first mile of the Sound to Olympics Trail completed.

In early March, while Nordland was still waiting for resolution on getting paid for its extra work, the city held a grand opening ribbon-cutting ceremony for the trail on March 3, 2018. City, county, state and federal officials were in attendance, as Bainbridge leaders touted the completion of the city’s newest “linear park.”

A few weeks later, in a letter to the city, Nordland said extra work costs for piling had risen to $292,084 and warned the company would be getting legal advice to resolve the dispute.

Nordland said it disagreed with the city’s view that the added costs should be paid for as a “quantity overrun.”

The city’s engineer issued three separate directives for extra piling, Nordland added, which added another 1,395 feet of piling above the original bid amount of 1,865 feet. Extensions then had to be welded onto 45 piles, with flatplates added to the tops of piles, before 21-foot-long extensions were welded/spliced onto the piles.

“It was an arduous effort by the prime contractor to bring together (galvanized steel piling orders and associated lead times), convince the pile driving subcontractor to remobilize to the job site to perform extra work, and mobilize additional welders needed for the amount of extra work required,” Johnson said in the letter.

“It is not the contractor’s responsibility to design the project,” he added. “The contractor has had grave concerns about the city’s funding/financing of this project throughout the performance of the project. This grave concern has borne out through the project. Especially in light of the city taking three to four months to respond to the contractor’s submitted extra work costs. Meanwhile the city has been enjoying the use of the completed project.”

Johnson ended the letter to say Nordland was meeting with legal representation “if needed to resolve the settlement of costs on this project.”

The dispute over Nordland’s claim to be paid for the additional piling work stretched through last summer, with the city claiming more documentation was needed, but adding that officials wanted to reach a “negotiated agreement.”

Public records show the city hired Hedeen & Caditz, a Seattle law firm that specializes in construction and complex litigation law, to review the case in the fall of 2018.

Earlier this year, city officials continued to try to get Nordland to agree to a change order for the project, which was rejected by Nordland in April.

In June, Public Works Director Barry Loveless sent a letter to Nordland saying the company had not provided “supplemental information” to the city that had been requested and the city was proceeding to closeout the project.

A follow-up letter from Loveless was sent July 24 that gave the company 30 days to sign and return the final contract voucher certificate, which set the final amount for the work at $2.4 million.

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