New contractor approved for Sarasota County sewer project that has kept lanes closed on Beneva Road and Bahia Vista Street in Sarasota

Expense will be more than three times the original amount

Construction barrels stand in the right, eastbound lane of Bahia Vista Street in early January. File photo

Recognizing the affected residents’ — and drivers’ — frustrations, the Sarasota County Commission voted unanimously on July 13 to authorize the completion of a sewage pipeline project along Beneva Road and Bahia Vista Street in Sarasota that has been on hold for months.

Mike Mylett director of the county’s Public Utilities Department, had recommended the board members’ action, following a presentation to them.

The expense for a different contractor — Forsberg Construction — to take over the work will be more than three times the original cost, Mylett said. Instead of approximately $6 million, the total will be $21,413,716.

A staff memo included in the July 13 agenda packet explained, “The project will focus initially on discovery and restoration where appropriate while long lead time items … [are] ordered.”

For an example, the memo said that it would take 36 weeks to get valves needed for the undertaking.

Then the memo noted, “Resumption of the pipeline portion of the project would occur in the fall based on delivery of equipment …” Staff anticipates that it will take a little less than a year — 330 days — for the project to be wrapped up after it gets underway again, Mylett told the commissioners.

In this view of northbound Beneva Road, just south of the Bahia Vista intersection, the sidewalk is missing and construction barrels close off the righthand lane in early January. File photo

“I feel awful for these people in this neighborhood that are dealing with this,” Commissioner Michael Moran said in making the July 13 motion.

Since late last year, the northbound, outside lane on part of Beneva Road — just south of the Bahia Vista Street intersection — and the eastbound outside lane on Bahia Vista Street from Beneva nearly to the McIntosh Road intersection have been closed to motorists.

“I drive that road every day,” Commissioner Christian Ziegler added. “I’ve heard form countless citizens. … They’re pretty upset with what’s going on there.”

From October 2020 to this week

During his presentation, Mylett reminded the commissioners of the facts of the saga that began in November 2021.

As The Sarasota News Leader has reported, in October 2020, the board members awarded a $5,967,501.50 contract to American Pipeline Construction LLC of Miami for what formally is known as the South Gate Master Pump Station and Parallel Force Main Along Bahia Vista Project.

“The whole reason for this project is to provide additional [sewer] capacity within our force main system to alleviate some of the bottlenecks,” Mylett explained to the commissioners on July 13. Those bottlenecks, he added, were a result “of the continued growth in this area.”

When the original force main was installed, he pointed out, staff knew that, eventually, the pipeline would have to be upgraded, “and that’s what this project was designed to do.”

This is the top of a county Capital Projects Department document, explaining the project. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Then, in November 2021, county Procurement Official Jennifer Slusarz sent American Pipeline Managing Partner Andres Luna a formal notice of the county’s intent to terminate the contract for cause. American Pipeline had failed to perform the work as required by the county contract, she wrote. County staff had afforded the company “the opportunity to remedy deficiencies,” Slusarz pointed out in a Dec. 3, 2021 letter to Luna.

Yet, she continued in a Dec. 21, 2021 letter, the company “had failed to complete all of the items” she had listed in that earlier communication. Thus, she said, the contract would be terminated as of Dec. 21, 2021.

In a Nov. 23, 2021 response to Slusarz, Luna had protested the county’s assertions, contending that the company had addressed “the vast majority of [those] items.”

In early May, Commissioner Ziegler brought up the disruptions to drivers and residents on Bahia Vista and Beneva Road. At that time, County Administrator Jonathan Lewis indicated that staff was working to hire a new contractor to take over the project.

During his July 13 presentation, Mylett of Public Utilities pointed out that the county had paid American Pipeline approximately $1.2 million before Slusarz terminated the contract.

“We did try to work with the contractor’s surety,” he continued.

The American Pipeline contract did include the standard country requirement for a performance and payment bond, “executed by the Contractor, and a surety company authorized to do business in the State of Florida,” the documents show. That bond was to be “no less than the contract price,” the contract added.

Mylett also talked about putting the project back out for bid; only one response resulted. “We negotiated with a local contractor who was able and willing to take over the project,” he told the commissioners.

Referencing the fact that the bid was so high, he said, “That’s the way the market is right now.”

During his June 24 presentation to the commissioners of his department’s preliminary budget for the 2023 fiscal year — which will begin on Oct. 1 — Mylett noted the difficulties of contending with rising prices, as a result of inflation and supply chain issues.

This map, included in the County Commission agenda packet for its Oct. 20, 2020 meeting, shows the route of the sewer force main installation. Image courtesy Sarasota County

On July 13, Mylett explained that staff had come up with two options for the commissioners: Move forward with the local contractor at the $21.4-million expense, or defer the completion of construction to a later date. If the board chose the latter option, he said, he could not guarantee that the cost of the work would be lower in future years.

Further, if the commissioners chose the second option, Mylett pointed out, “We open ourselves up to some risk. … We know that there’s challenges in our [sewage] collection system. We may experience additional sanitary sewer overflows.”

The staff memo in the July 13 agenda packet said that a delay in completing the initiative could affect the Consent Order the commissioners approved with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) in August 2019. That order laid out steps the county would need to take to prevent future sewage system spills. It also called for the conversion of the Bee Ridge Water Reclamation Facility to Advanced Wastewater Treatment status, which would lead to a significant reduction in the amount of nitrogen in the resulting treated, reclaimed water. Nitrogen has been found to be the primary food for the red tide algae. That conversion is underway.

Further, the July 13 memo said, a delay in the Bahia Vista project would result in delays of ancillary initiatives, including the conversion of the Central County Water Reclamation Facility to Advanced Wastewater Treatment status. The commissioners also have authorized the latter undertaking, which is in its early stages.

Recognition of the need to get the work going again

This is a May 10 notice about the closed lane on Bahia Vista Street, as shown on the county website. Image courtesy Sarasota County

After making the motion to proceed with the project, Commissioner Moran talked about the fact that both Mylett and Carolyn Eastwood, director of the county’s Capital Projects Department, had spent considerable time with the board members, speaking to them one-on-one about the construction initiative, so as not to violate the state’s Sunshine Laws.

He had seen the calendars for his colleagues, reflecting those other sessions, Moran noted.

“You guys have been pounding this,” Moran told Mylett and Eastwood. “If this is one of the few challenges that we deal with, well, we’re going to deal with it,” Moran added.

Nonetheless, Moran said, “We’d better get our money back. … Somebody’s going to be stroking a check for this. This is the reason we have insurance.”

Commissioner Ziegler agreed about the need to try to recover the money paid to American Pipeline.

“The county is not taking the easy path,” Chair Alan Maio added. “We will find the money somewhere.”
“We have an incredibly robust and exceptional procurement process,” Commissioner Ron Cutsinger said, noting that the situation resulted from a “confluence of unusual circumstances.”