Slow progress on main angers residents
By Mary Thurwachter
Lantana officials have put the squeeze on Intercounty Engineering Inc., the firm hired to install water main pipes on South Atlantic Drive on Hypoluxo Island. The contractor, they say, has fallen behind schedule and isn’t doing a satisfactory job of cleanup after work each day.
Payments to the contractor are being withheld by Lantana’s engineering company, Mathews Consulting Inc. The contract is worth a little more than $1 million, and $671,000 is left to be paid, according to Rebecca Travis of Mathews Consulting.
In December, the town hired Intercounty Engineering, the lowest of three bidders, to install new 6- and 8-inch water mains along South Atlantic Drive and Southeast Atlantic Drive for additional fire protection, according to Linda Brien, Lantana’s director of operations. The project, along the island’s main street, begins at East Ocean Boulevard and South Atlantic Drive heading south to Lands End Road, where it turns east to the end of Southeast Atlantic Drive.
The original final completion date was July 3. However, “due to rain and unforeseen conditions, the town extended the completion date to July 23,” Brien said. That goal hasn’t been met and those who live in the area aren’t happy about it — or about the quality of work.
The work continued into August. The Coastal Star reached out to Maurice Hynes, president of Intercounty Engineering, for comment, but he did not reply.
Dan Hiatt, who lives on the island and has 40 years’ experience in construction, appeared at the July 9 Town Council meeting. He said that when the workers were cutting a trench, they threw dirt all over the road and did not clean it up, as the contract required.
Hiatt said the work had created a giant mess that is a safety issue.
“We’ve got a coalition of people that see me every day when I walk my dog that have been consistently calling and complaining about this,” said Hiatt. “We just want to figure out a remedy to this situation. How can we force his [the contractor’s] hand? What can we do to make this guy comply with the contract?”
Another resident, Erica Wald, complained about flagmen who “are always eating something or looking at their phone” when she tried to drive through the construction site. The mess left by workers has resulted in three flat tires for her car, she said.
Manalapan commissioners who live on Point Manalapan and gain access to their community by driving past the construction site, also expressed concerns at last month’s meeting of their Town Council.
Lantana Town Manager Deborah Manzo said the town is keeping close tabs on the work and that either someone from Mathews Consulting or someone from the town is on site every day.
“We feel the contractor is lacking in his attention to the project, his cleanup of the project, and his provision of asphalt patching on the trench every night that he’s required to do,” Mathews engineering consultant Travis told the Lantana council on July 9.
She said that the engineering firm was holding a monthly meeting with the contractor to bring these issues to light and that the town has had additional meetings with the contractor, or his project manager.
“When he [contractor] was not responding in the manner he should have, we issued a notice of noncompliance letter on June 28 to rectify the situation, and this was specific to the asphalt patching at the end of every single day,” Travis said. “He says he’ll do better. He has done slightly better, still not to our standards.”
In order for the contractor to finish the water main work sometime this month, he needs to have a second crew, Travis said. “Because the contractor is not meeting his contract completion times, the town can charge him $500 a day for each day he is late.” Those fines are piling up.
Hiatt wanted to know why the town didn’t red tag the contractor and shut him down.
Town Attorney Max Lohman said to do that would be “asinine in the extreme.”
“Then you’re going to have months more of what you don’t like now, because then we have to go through a process,” Lohman said. “Not to mention that we can’t collect liquidated damages on a project that we red tag and prevent him from doing construction.”
Lohman said the town was pursuing its remedies under the contract as it is required to do.
“We’ve provided written notice of his breach of contract for his failures to meet the terms of his contract and we’re taking all the necessary legal steps to move forward,” Lohman said.
Hiatt said one resident was threatening a lawsuit. But Lohman said that wasn’t a good idea.
“If a man feels so inclined to bring a lawsuit, he can go waste his money and do that because there are no third-party beneficiaries to this contract,” Lohman said. Not “he, nor you, nor anybody else in this town has the ability to sue this contractor for breach of contract. Only the Town Council does.”
Hiatt questioned how sincerely the town was taking his concerns.
“We are taking it seriously, and just so you know, we’re trying to make sure we jump though all the legal hoops, which sometimes are slower and more laborious then we’d like them to be,” Lohman said. “Because the only thing worse than this project not getting completed in a timely fashion is to waste money not getting it done and have to spend more money.”
The town could go after the contractor’s bond.
“If he does not cure his breach then we can put a claim on his surety bond, which will hurt him more than a lawsuit because once a contractor gets a claim on their bond it becomes nearly impossible to get another one,” Lohman said.
“We do realize that it’s a problem for people who live there, and the town is not insensitive to it,” Lohman said. “But we have to follow the proper legal steps to solve the problem for you.”
When Hiatt persisted to question the town’s willingness to act, Lohman bristled.
“No one here is blowing you off,” Lohman said. “We’re addressing your concerns. You’re not satisfied with the answer and I understand that. But I take issue with the fact that you’re going to stand here and ridicule this council and lecture us as if we don’t have backbone or don’t have the ability to enforce our contractual obligations on our contractor.”
After the July 9 council meeting, Mathews Consulting sent a second notice of noncompliance for the asphalt trench repair. Recommendations included constructing an asphalt cap over the trench and cleaning the road at the end of each workday.
Brien said the contractor responded that “they are taking steps to follow the contract patching requirements.”
In other news, the council:
• Set the first budget hearing for 5:30 p.m. Sept. 12 in the council chambers. The proposed tax rate is $3.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value, the same as last year.
• Recognized Officer Mathew Parks as the Police Department’s Officer of the 2nd Quarter for his investigation into a large-scale car theft operation in the county.