City of Sarasota’s legal expenses for litigation over lift station project approaching $5 million

City Commission had agreed a settlement offer was too low

Project materials for the original Lift Station 87 project were visible in Luke Wood Park in April 2014. File photo

When the Sarasota City Commission agreed last week that a settlement offer from a firm in litigation with the city over the original Lift Station 87 project was insufficient, the city attorney did not have with him an updated figure for the legal fees the city had incurred.

At the request of The Sarasota News Leader, City Attorney Robert Fournier this week provided a detailed accounting of the money the city has spent in its battle with AECOM and Westra Construction Corp. The total is more than $4.7 million.

AECOM had offered a settlement of $1,250,000, Fournier told the City Commission on Jan. 3. Given the city’s expenses to that point, he said, he had found no need to schedule a session with the board to discuss whether it would accept that amount.

Mayor Willie Shaw replied that Fournier was correct.

AECOM bought the company that the city first hired — in 2008 — to handle the design of the project that would lead to the decommissioning of an outdated lift station that years ago was the focus of environmental complaints. Westra Construction was the primary contractor on the project.

The following are the figures Fournier sent the News Leader in Jan. 11 emails:

  • $1,940,705.95 paid to outside litigation counsel.
  • $2,366,656.39 paid to expert witnesses (primarily David Wright at the Neel-Schaffer firm, a “standard of care” expert, and International Construction consultants, “construction delay” experts. This amount also includes costs of tests to determine the location of the Hudson Bayou bridge foundation, Fournier noted.)
  • $342,150.50 paid for costs including a document retrieval service, court reporter fees and transcripts.
  • $100,437.50 paid to the City Attorney’s Office.

The city’s lawsuit against AECOM dates to Feb. 25, 2013. Westra Construction Corp. filed a complaint against the city on May 19, 2014, arguing that the city repeatedly had denied its requests for public documents related to the city’s termination of AECOM. The city’s complaint and the Westra lawsuit were consolidated by 12th Judicial Circuit Court Rochelle Curley in January 2015.