City Utilities Department director points to complexity of proposed pipeline replacements and notes pauses for tourist season
Citing his concerns about the negative effects city construction projects have had on business owners, Sarasota City Commissioner Hagen Brody this week voted against awarding an almost $9-million contract for a two-year project involving utility line replacements along Osprey Avenue.
“These projects are devastating to the businesses that they impact,” he told his colleagues before the Sept. 3 vote. “I think we should be taking more time to focus on the calendar,” he added, to determine whether construction timelines can be shortened.
He cast the only “No’ vote on a motion by Commissioner Willie Shaw, seconded by Vice Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch, to pay Metro Equipment Service of Miami $8,976,082.50. The contract calls for replacement of 18-inch and 20-inch asbestos cement wastewater force main pipelines and a 10-inch asbestos potable water main pipe along Osprey Avenue between Bay Street and the city’s Wastewater Treatment Plant, located at 1750 12th St., as a city memo explained the project.
Provided to the commission in advance of its regular meeting this week, the memo said that, if the contract were approved, staff anticipated the work would begin in mid-October and then be completed in mid-October 2021. Pauses will take place from mid-December to April 1 during both the 2020 and 2021 fiscal years, the memo pointed out.
The utility lines “have reached the end of their useful life and require replacement,” the memo added.
The city received only two bids for the project, the memo noted. The second was from Forsberg Construction Inc. of Punta Gorda in the amount of $17,022,222.17, the memo said. The city’s budget for the project is $13,184,523, the memo noted.
Brody asked that the item be pulled from the commission’s Consent Agenda No. 1 of routine business items for the Sept. 3 meeting.
“It’s going to be a pretty big construction project through the heart of our downtown,” he said. “I don’t particularly care for the [pauses].”
In response to a question from Brody, City Utilities Department Director William Riebe said that the contractor would not be able to finish up by October 2020 if the project began after the height of the upcoming tourist season.
“It’s just the extent of the project,” Riebe explained. “It’s 6,200 feet of pipe … It’s a pretty complicated project. We have to keep everything in service …”
“There’s no opportunity to double up on work, even if it costs more to do it, or [to work] at night?” Brody asked.
Complaints from neighborhoods would arise, Riebe replied, if crews were to keep on the job at night. “It’s a challenge doing work in an urban environment like we’re in.”
Riebe added that the project calls for trenchless construction, which utilizes a horizontal directional drill, between Bay Street and 10th Street, “through the neighborhoods and commercial areas,” as the staff memo put it. In areas where the trenchless technology is not feasible, the memo added, open-cut construction has been proposed.
Riebe told Brody that the trenchless construction is “the least intrusive, it’s the least destructive and the least impactful on the residents.”
Moreover, Riebe continued, “There won’t be [street] closures, necessarily,” though some detours will have to be created north of Fruitville Road. One-lane traffic flow will be implemented at times, Riebe said. Nonetheless, “Everybody’ll still have access to their property at all times.”
Brody then asked whether city staff incorporates expected project timelines in its solicitation packages.
Yes, staff does, Riebe told him. However, Riebe pointed out, “You don’t want to set [the schedule] too tight,” or the contractor will not be able to perform adequately. Likewise, Riebe said, too shortened a timeline would be more costly for the city.
In opposing Shaw’s motion to approve the project, Brody said he had asked several times in the past for more information regarding street closures deemed necessary for city projects. “Let us deliberate whether [paying a higher] cost is worth the expeditious completion …”
Only one public speaker addressed the board before the vote.
Business owner Martin Hyde, a past commission candidate, urged the board members to hire an independent expert to advise them on utility projects. He had reviewed reports the city’s Utilities Department directors had written over the past eight years, Hyde pointed out, and had found that they all “vary wildly from each other on matters of fact. … [They] can’t all be right.”
Riebe had provided “two assertions barely a year apart,” Hyde continued, “that are also wildly different.”
Hyde told the commissioners he does not know which reports are or not correct, “but neither do you.”