Saline City Council Balks at Paying Last WWTP Construction Bill

 02/20/2017 - 00:57
Brian Rubel (right) of TetraTech speaks about the WWTP renovation project with assistance from Bob Scull.

A regular item on the agenda of City Council meetings for the last few years has been ongoing payments to Weiss Construction for work on upgrading the wastewater treatment plant (WWTP). Normally these payments have been approved with little or no discussion, but the latest payment request for about $230,000, which was to be the last, was different.

Clearly citizens are angry about odor issues with the WWTP, but the $3M renovation project overseen by Tetra Tech was not primarily about odor. It was to renew and refurbish the equipment. Unfortunately, not everything has gone well.

“I’m very happy with the results of the project and the work that was completed with one exception,” said Senior Project Manager Brian Rubel from Tetra Tech. “We continue to struggle with the filters, which is the final step in the treatment process.”

The filters are not just passive barriers, but large rotating machines. The mechanical elements of these devices have failed several times in the past year.

The filters are provided by a separate supplier, which has sent workers to Saline numerous times to deal with the problems, most recently last week. They are now trying to bulk up the equipment so it is less vulnerable to breakdown.

Rubel together with Wastewater Treatment Supervisor Bob Scull came to Saline City Council with several requests. They wanted approval of a change order which both added and subtracted some aspects of the installation with a net additional cost of about $17,500. They also requested approval of the (almost) final payment to Weiss.

The contract for the WWTP work imposed substantial penalties on the contractor if the work was not completed on time. When they failed to meet the deadline, Council extended it, but then they also failed to meet the revised one. Language about the deadline was written into the change order.

“This change order does give them time,” Rubel said. “It basically will change the contract date to their completion date without any damages imposed on them.”

Rubel acknowledged that the city could still elect to impose penalties. He further suggested that the city withhold $26,790 until the filter is repaired and passes all evaluations.

Council members had many questions. In response to a question from council member Dean Girbach, Rubel revealed that the full late penalty would be $190,000. Rubel also told Girbach that if the filter could not be repaired, installing a different manufacturer’s filter would cost hundreds of thousands more dollars, but the contractor is responsible for providing a working system.

Girbach reminded Council members that the city had paid off contracts for roof work at the Rec Center which was done shoddily and now will require over a million dollars to fix. He suggested that the city refuse to make any additional payments to Weiss until the filter issue is fully resolved.

City Attorney Scott Smith said that the problem is clearly due to the manufacturer of the filter, not the contractor, so this is different than the Rec Center roof situation. Rubel agreed.

 “I would say with the utmost respect to the contractor, having issues with suppliers – that’s not our problem,” Mayor Brian Marl said.

Council member Jack Ceo wanted to know more about why the city should not penalize the contractor. City Manager Todd Campbell said city staff agreed “that we would go to bat for them” because “the quality of the work has been very high.”

Attorney Smith also said that holding the contractor responsible for the filter manufacturer’s problems is complicated by the fact that they installed the filter that the city had specified.

Council member Christen Mitchell asked about what kind of warranty the contractor was providing. Rubel replied that although the contract only requires two years for parts and one for labor, Weiss has offered three years parts and three years labor. This concession is partial compensation for the late completion.

Mayor Marl suggested that the payment be delayed, saying that although he understood the constraints on the contractor, “I don’t want the city to be a pushover.”

Smith agreed. He suggested that by waiting until the next council meeting on March 6, the filter manufacturer would have time to attempt a repair and various legal issues could be resolved.

Council decided unanimously to delay payment and acceptance of the change order until March 6.

Bob Conradi Is a retired pharmaceutical scientist who has redefined himself as a photographer and journalist. He has lived in Michigan for 36 years and in the Saline area for 10. He enjoys researching and learning about new ideas. Reach him at bobcphotography@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter at @RobertConradi.
Bob Conradi Is a retired pharmaceutical scientist who has redefined himself as a photographer and journalist. He has lived in Michigan for 36 years and in the Saline area for 10. He enjoys researching and learning about new ideas. Reach him at bobcphotography@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter at @RobertConradi.