Mild winter temperatures reducing frozen conditions led a contractor to stop working on installing sewer and water pipes in a swampy area in East Bethel for 44 days, the contractor claimed to the city in a request for a change order.
At the conclusion of its Feb. 15 meeting, the East Bethel City Council on a 3-1 vote agreed to give S.R. Weidema of Maple Grove more time to complete the sewer and water pipe installation for the joint East Bethel and Metropolitan Council project mostly south of the Highway 65 and Viking Boulevard intersection.
The contract the previous council approved in December 2010 gave S.R. Weidema a July 31, 2012 deadline.
S.R. Weidema in late January asked the city to extend the deadline from July 31, 2012 to June 30, 2013. The company had halted work in the swampy area along Highway 65, north of 189th Avenue, from Dec. 9, 2011 through Jan. 23 of this year.
After numerous discussions, including the council holding closed sessions because of potential litigation, the city, MCES and Weidema agreed that Weidema would have until Dec. 1, 2012 to complete the water pipes installation and until June 30, 2013 to complete the sewer pipes. There will be no increased costs to the city, according to City Administrator Jack Davis.
“A contract is a contract,” said Councilmember Robert DeRoche Jr., the only councilmember who opposed the time extension. He said he has a problem with change orders because a company could underbid to get the job and then add change orders later to cover its higher costs.
On the other hand, Mayor Richard Lawrence said the contract notes that S.R. Weidema could ask for more time if there was unfavorable weather.
Although Councilmember Heidi Moegerle did not like the idea of rewarding S.R. Weidema with an extension, she felt it was in the best interest of the city to settle this issue and move on to the business of getting developers to hook on to the future sewer and water system.
Besides Lawrence and Moegerle, Councilmember Steve Voss also approved the extension. Councilmember Bill Boyer was not at the Feb. 15 council meeting when the extension was approved.
According to Davis, having the water service available first is critical in the recruitment of a business looking to locate in East Bethel. This business needs the water for its fire suppression system, he said.
As far as sewer service, Metropolitan Council Environmental Services (MCES) spokesperson Tim O’Donnell said MCES had planned all along to haul wastewater to another MCES facility on an interim basis until there is sufficient wastewater flow to start up the new wastewater reclamation plant.
Until this treatment plant is up and running, he said the wastewater would be transferred to the MCES Liquid Waste Receiving Facility located in Fridley.
Considering the extension request
On hearing about the possibility of a time extension for S.R. Weidema at the Feb. 1 council meeting, East Bethel resident Tom Ronning raised concerns about the property taxpayers of East Bethel ultimately being on the hook for any project delays.
Ronning along with resident Christine Howell said that the previous council, notably former Mayor Greg Hunter, said that if a resident did not hook up to the sewer and water system, they would not pay for it. Ronning does not believe most residents understand that if enough customers do not hook up to the system, East Bethel property taxpayers will have to pay off the debt on the bonds that the former council sold to finance this project.
Davis said what it comes down to is the city needs about 600 connections to the sewer and water system before the end of 2016. Otherwise, the city would start seeing a deficit for the bond repayment.
According to Davis, if there are deficits in future years, the city has some ideas of how to cover those costs. This could include utilizing a MCES reserve program, an internal loan from the city’s housing and redevelopment authority fund, which receives dollars from the tax levy. The last resort is a general fund levy, which would need to occur if the city cannot cover its expenses because the former council approved issuance of general obligation bonds.
Davis said the city cannot collect any assessments from people owning property in the project area until 2014. After the overall project is completed in 2013, the city must hold public hearings on the assessments. The tax could not be certified to the property owner’s taxes until the following year — 2014. However, he said the city could start collecting sewer and water access charges immediately after property owners in the project area request to hook up to the system.
Davis asked Kreg Schmidt of Bolton and Menk, which designed the sewer and water pipe system, if the city could only approve a 44-day extension rather than an 11-month extension.
Schmidt answered in an e-mail to Davis that, “I want to give Weidema a date they can hit. I don’t want to do this again. They will need some time after the frost goes out of the ground to completely finalize the project.”
Davis said if the council had denied the extension, the issue could have gone to arbitration and there would be even more delays. Should the city lose, there would be more costs. Davis felt it was in the best interest of the city to approve the change order, move on and focus on finding businesses to hook up to the sewer and water system.
Davis did ask Bryce Pickart of MCES and Schmidt whether the city could defend a denial of the time extension request. Both felt the city could not defend the denial.
Eric Hagen is at firstname.lastname@example.org