The price tag of the troubled sewer project on Water Street has doubled to $9 million. Now, as construction ramps up to finish a job that had to be paused earlier this year, the town and a private contractor doing the work can’t agree on who should pay for the increase.
“We’re trying to avoid litigation, but struggling to find common ground,” said Plymouth Town Manager Derek Brindisi.
Northern Construction of Palmer, won the contract in 2022 with a low bid of $4.5 million to install a quarter-mile section of 30-inch sewer pipe under Water Street to replace the existing sewer line that runs under the edge of the harbor.
Work began in December 2022 and was supposed to be finished by the end of June 2023 to lessen the impact on the tourist season. But groundwater problems, shifting soil, and damage to the street, sidewalks and five buildings on Water and Chilton Streets, forced a shutdown of the project on March 7 so engineers could evaluate site and the construction methods used.
“Water came in from underneath the excavation and caused the trench to be unstable,” said Ziad Kary, regional manager at Environmental Partners, the engineering firm hired by the town to design and oversee the project. “That area is tidally influenced. Groundwater pressure rises at high tide.”
The review led to additional groundwater monitoring measures and relief wells placed within the working trench. With those changes, the project resumed May 22, but only briefly. The town ordered work to stop June 30, again for the benefit of the tourist season, which was already underway. Northern Construction removed its equipment and paved over the trench to reopen the road.
That delay (which extended the project from one construction season to two) and the additional groundwater management measures will cost an extra $4.5 million, according to “change orders” submitted by the contractor, Brindisi said.
The precise cause of the groundwater problem is in dispute. Kary declined to discuss specifics because of the potential for litigation. Northern Construction did not respond to requests for comment.
Town officials, however, say the contractor claims the problems occurred because soil conditions under Water Street were different from what was described in the project’s bid documents. The town disagrees.
“The town’s position is the soil conditions are the same today as they were when the contract was bid,” Brindisi said. “The problem had nothing to do with the design or the soil conditions. It was the way the construction was done.”
Northern Construction is scheduled to bring in equipment Monday, Dec. 4, and begin construction soon thereafter. It will, once again, use much of the parking lot behind Memorial Hall as a staging area for trailers, equipment, and supplies.
Before the project was stopped in June, Northern Construction had installed 527 feet of sewer pipe, leaving 773 feet to go. The new plan is to complete the installation by the end of April 2024.
The town used federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to pay for the original $4.5 million contract. How the additional $4.5 million in costs will be covered remains to be seen.
Brindisi acknowledged that the town is responsible for some share of the added costs, because of extra measures it required for the project to continue. The contractor, however, should bear the brunt, he said.
“We are talking with the contractor about what the town’s fair share is, but right now we are very far apart,” Brindisi said. “We both agree that we need to get this project completed successfully and have the street put back together before the summer.”
Michael Cohen can be reached at email@example.com.
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