By David Howell
WATER VALLEY – Aldermen approved a $23,515 change order on the city’s sewage project to fix a box culvert that runs in front of the curb at the post office after it was damaged during the replacement of the city’s main sewer line. The request came after aldermen initially balked at an earlier meeting at approving the added expense to the project, citing the contractor made an error when cutting the 150-foot stretch of concrete in front of the post office.
The cut into the concrete compromised the integrity of the concrete box culvert, which will require the entire box culvert to be placed.
The engineer for the project, Karl Grubb, reported at the March 6 meeting that the damage occurred because the culvert deviated from industry standards, adding that typically the underground culvert would have been a pipe and not a box culvert.
“Differing subsurface sight conditions is something that is legitimate and happens all the time. The contractor couldn’t walk the job and see it. I couldn’t walk the job and see it. No one made me aware of it at the time. Therefore it is not known,” Grubb explained as he requested aldermen to grant a change order to fix the culvert.
The added cost of project will come from grants awarded the city from the Mississippi Development Authority and Appalachian Regional Commission for the $600,000 project.
Aldermen reluctantly granted the request for a change order in a 4-0 vote after questioning Grubb about the problem. Grubb also explained the culvert was located underground, but above the sewage line that crews were working to replace.
“You assumed it was a pipe?” Ward 1 Alderman Kagan Coughlin asked during the dialogue.
“Standard industry is a pipe,” Grubb answered.
“In a system that is over 100 years old?” Coughlin asked.
“Standard industry is a pipe, yes,” Grubb said.
“Is it pennies coming out of the city’s coffer?” City Attorney Daniel Martin asked.
“No. Whether you accept this change order or decline this change order, it will not change the amount that the city has to pay. Because if this money is not spent, it will be sent back to the state,” Grubb answered about contingency money remaining in the grant fund awarded to the city.
“For another project,” Ward 3 Alder-man Cinnamon Foster noted about the grant money which could be turned back in and used in another community.
“I get the point that somebody made a mistake. But in the grand scheme of things mistakes happen,” Martin said, adding that Grubb is acknowledging the problem and asking for approval to use the grant money for the repair.
Martin also questioned the validity of bucking the engineer after a diligent and reliable relationship with his firm, Willis Engineering, for over a decade.
“I would wonder if that company would want to go to bat with the city that it has been working for over a decade over a box culvert?” Coughlin asked.
“It’s up to you guys,” Martin said.
“What are the next steps, is the construction company looking to you to remedy this?” Coughlin asked.
“Absolutely. They are saying they are not at fault because they were not aware of this situation therefore they shouldn’t have to fix it at their expense,” Grubb answered.
“In the design specs that they were given by Willis Engineering, the distance off the curb, they followed that?” Coughlin asked.
“Yes,” Grubb said.
“So the construction company is not at fault, they followed the directions. So this is now Willis Engineering saying they didn’t know,” Coughlin said.
“We told them to follow the existing gravity sewer and cut that distance on each side of it,” Grubb said. The engineer also explained that nobody from the city alerted him during pre-construction planning that there was a box culvert in front of the post office.
“I have to agree with Daniel, I think we need to go ahead and move on and learn from experience and make sure we get all the knowledge that is available when we have another project like this,” Mayor Donald Gray recommended. Gray also noted neither the engineer nor the contractor were made aware of the box culvert.
Coughlin asked if Willis Engineering had taken steps to protect against future mistakes like this.
“I have been doing this for 30 years and every job is different,” Grubb answered. “If I had known it, if I had personally known it, we would not be having this discussion,” he added.
After Gray asked for a motion for the third time to grant the change order, Ward 2 Alderman Fred Alderman motioned to grant it. Ward 4 Aldermen Nicole Folson seconded the motion and a unanimous voted followed.