With legal settlement winning County Commission approval, in regard to Bahia Vista pipeline project, construction expected to be finished by end of July

Barrels finally removed from Bahia Vista Street in segment fronting Der Dutchman

This map, ishows the route of the sewer force main installation. Image courtesy Sarasota County

On Wednesday, May 8, almost exactly two weeks after the Sarasota County commissioners approved a legal settlement related to the years-long Bahia Vista Parallel Force Main Project, the contractor handling the work at last was able to remove construction barrels from the roadway, the county’s Capital Projects staff confirmed for The Sarasota News Leader.

An April 19 post on the county’s Facebook page announced, “The final portion of pipe for the Bahia Vista Parallel Forcemain Project has been installed! Road resurfacing and restoration is anticipated to begin the first week of May.”

County staff’s May update on the project, available through the Projects in My Neighborhood webpage, indicated that the April 19 report was about the final tie-in of the new pipeline at the Southgate Master Pump Station.

The Facebook post added, “Find out more at scgov.net/CapitalProjects.”

Even though the initiative is not expected to be completed until around the end of July, as a county notice says, drivers who had been contending with two-lane traffic on a four-lane segment of Bahia Vista — from the vicinity of the Der Dutchman restaurant, east to McIntosh Road — were able once again to use all four travel lanes.

Late last year, the county’s monthly project updates indicated that all of the work would be completed by the end of May. In response to a News Leader question about the change to July, the Capital Projects staff wrote in an April 24 email, “The reason for [the longer timeline] is additional work effort needed based on extra remedial work due to the prior contractor’s deficient work as well as additional road restoration associated with that. There was also work associated with two separate instances of unknown/unforeseen utility conflicts.”

This aerial map shows part of the businesses and residential communities located in the vicinity of the project area on Bahia Vista Street in Sarasota. Image from Google Maps

As for the legal settlement: During the regular commission meeting on April 23, County Attorney Joshua Moye provided comments on a detailed memo that he had included in the board packet.

The memo said that the county would receive $5,601,240.24 from Frankenmuth Mutual Insurance Co., headquartered in Frankenmuth, Mich. That company supplied the payment and performance bond for the original contractor to which the County Commission awarded the force main project, American Pipeline Construction LLC of Miami.

On Dec. 21, 2021, the county’s Procurement Official, Jennifer Slusarz, declared that American Pipeline had failed to fulfill its obligations to the county in its work on the undertaking. She then officially notified American Pipeline that she had terminated its $5,967,501.50 contract.

As county Capital Projects Department documents explain, the undertaking entails the installation of a 2-mile-long, 24-inch transmission sewer force main, beginning at the Southgate Master Pump Station, following Hyde Park Street to Brookhaven Drive and then moving onto Sea View Street before crossing Beneva Road and heading north to Bahia Vista Street. The route continues east to the intersection of McIntosh Road and Bahia Vista Street. The force main work has been taking place in the county’s right of way and under the south lane of Bahia Vista Street.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) explains that a force main is a pipeline that conveys wastewater under pressure from the discharge side of a pump or pneumatic ejector to a discharge point. Pumps or compressors located in a lift station provide the energy for wastewater conveyance in force mains.” The key elements of force mains, the EPA added, are a pipeline, valves, pressure surge control devices and a cleaning system.

The EPA also notes, “Pipeline size and wall thickness are determined by wastewater flow, operating pressure, and trench conditions.”

This photo shows the final piece of pipeline installed to tie into the Southgate Master Pump Station. Image courtesy Sarasota County via Facebook

On July 1, 2022, County Attorney Moye’s memo said, a company called Fortiline Inc. sued American Pipeline and Frankenmuth. Fortiline had supplied pipe to American Pipeline for the force main project, the memo noted.

Then, on Oct. 3, 2022, American Pipeline filed its answer to Fortiline’s complaint, the memo continued; the answer “included a third-party complaint against the County. The County filed a counterclaim against American Pipeline and Frankenmuth. As part of that counterclaim, the County sought damages from American Pipeline and from Frankenmuth,” the memo added.

“The counterclaim against Frankenmuth included a novel theory of recovery which tried to recover damages beyond that of the bond under a theory that Frankenmuth promised to find a new contractor to handle the Project,” the memo explained. On Dec. 6, 2023, the memo continued, the 12th Judicial Circuit Court dismissed that part of the counterclaim against Frankenmuth. “Thus, as a result of this ruling, the County’s recovery against Frankenmuth is limited to the remaining amount of the surety bond,” which was the $5.6 million, the memo said.

“Frankenmuth has already paid other bond claimants $366,261.26,” the memo added.

Fortiline, which is an additional bond claimant, “believes it is entitled to $1,163,873.20 in unpaid principal, plus costs and attorney’s fees,” the memo pointed out.

“The settlement agreement with Frankenmuth does not settle any claims Fortiline has against Frankenmuth in this 2022 Litigation, nor does it settle any claims Fortiline made against the County” in 2023, the memo added.

Yet, the memo noted, “Accepting the settlement agreement would mean Sarasota County has the full amount of the money recovered from the surety bond on hand.”

Nonetheless, the memo continued, “We expect Fortiline to contest the settlement agreement,” which the Circuit Court would have to accept. “For this reason, if the [County Commission] accepts the settlement agreement, Frankenmuth and the County would jointly file a motion for the Court to accept the settlement agreement. If the Court accepts the settlement agreement, that order would remove the County from the 2022 Litigation. If the Court does not accept the settlement agreement, then the 2022 Litigation would continue.”

Further, the memo said, “The County moved for and received a default judgment against American Pipeline. The County may still try to recover whatever damages might be available from American Pipeline; however, such a recovery may be limited or unavailable because American Pipeline may be insolvent.”

The memo also noted, “Mediation is scheduled for May 20, 2024 and trial is set for August 2024.”

Barrels in the construction zone in early November 2023 necessitated drivers’ care in pulling out onto Bahia Vista Street. The driver of a van begins a maneuver through the barrels to head east on Bahia Vista. The Der Dutchman restaurant is in the background, on the right. File photo

Late in the afternoon of May 14, the News Leader found that the American Pipeline website remained active. However, a firm called Levelset reported that the company had not worked on any jobs in the past 12 months.

(On its website, Levelset explains, “Every year, $1 Trillion makes its way through the construction industry, tied heavily to a complex network of payment documents. Red tape has turned payment into a stress-filled nightmare that results in slow pay cycles, bullying, burdensome paperwork, and costly disputes.

“Levelset helps contractors and suppliers get payment under control, facilitating smooth payments and successful projects.

“We exist to empower people in the worldwide construction industry to always get what they earn.”

On April 23, Commissioner Joe Neunder made the motion to accept the settlement with Frankenmuth, and Commissioner Mark Smith seconded it. The motion passed unanimously.

Fortiline’s claims, in detail

County Attorney Moye’s memo further explained the Fortiline action against the county.

In its Dec. 8, 2023 filing, the memo said, Fortiline contended that the county owes it for the materials supplied as part of the Bahia Vista Parallel Force Main Project. “The alleged damages include $1,163,873.20 in unpaid principal, plus costs and attorney’s fees,” the memo noted.

“Our office filed an answer with several affirmative defenses, primarily that Fortiline is not a materialman entitled to recovery under Florida law, and that it delivered the materials for storage on site, when the contract with American Pipeline forbade such storage,” the memo pointed out.

County staff estimates that pipe and other materials from Fortiline, worth $220,586.20, were “incorporated into the Project. The remainder of the pipe and other supplies Fortiline delivered to the site was never

Installed,” the memo added. “Further, because American Pipeline did not properly store the remaining pipe and materials,” the memo explained, “the remaining pipe and materials are no longer viable for use.”

In this Jan. 6, 2022 view of northbound Beneva Road, just south of the Bahia Vista intersection, the sidewalk is missing and construction barrels close off the righthand lane. File photo

The memo also noted, “Because Fortiline and American Pipeline refused to remove those materials from the site,” county staff put them in storage at one of its facilities.

“Although Fortiline may have a legitimate claim for $220,586.20,” the memo continued, “we do not believe the County should be responsible for the entire sum it claims is owed.

“Trial is tentatively scheduled for December 2024,” the memo added.

A big increase in cost but few lingering public frustrations indicated

After the termination of the original contract for the parallel force main project, it was not until August 2022 that county staff could present the County Commission a proposed new agreement for the work. Because of inflation and other issues — more than a few of them related to the COVID-19 pandemic — then-Public Utilities Department Director Mike Mylett told the commissioners that the new procurement process had resulted in a recommendation of a contract award totaling $21,413,716. It went to Forsberg Construction of Punta Gorda.

“We appreciate the community’s ongoing patience with this critical project,” Mylett said in an Aug. 30 news release about the pending resumption of the initiative. “Our focus remains on providing the best service to our customers, and this will help us continue that mission,” he added in the release.

At the time of that second County Commission award of a contract for the project, staff anticipated the initiative would be completed in March of this year. The work was not expected to get underway again until after the end of the 2022-23 tourist season, staff noted.

Last fall, as the News Leader reported, county staff was fielding few complaints or concerns from business owners in the area affected by the construction or from drivers.

For one example, an employee of Alma Sue’s Quilts, located at 997 Love Ave. but fronting east Bahia Vista — near the Der Dutchman restaurant — called the county Contact Center to report that “traffic barricades are making exit from the parking lot onto Bahia Vista nearly impossible …” The person was “just curious if the barricades could be slightly adjusted to accommodate driveway egress.”

Earlier this spring, the News Leader submitted a new public records request, seeking information about any calls or emails received between Jan. 1 and April 24.

None had been logged specifically in regard to Bahia Vista Street, staff reported after the search. However, two separate inquiries were logged in regard to conditions at the intersection of Beneva Road and Bahia Vista Street, staff noted:

  • On Feb. 6, an individual told the Contact Center staff that the bicycle lane near that intersection needed to be restriped. Resurfacing of the roadway was underway, the caller noted, but double striping was needed.
  • A caller on April 22 said the “road needs to be repaired,” according to the call log.