Mayor rebuffs firm’s offer of settlement in lawsuit over original Lift Station 87 microtunneling project

City’s pursuit of legal action dates to 2013

Image courtesy City of Sarasota

On Jan. 3, Sarasota City Attorney Robert Fournier told the city commissioners what the firm the city has sued over the previous Lift Station 87 project had offered as a settlement. Mayor Willie Shaw responded, “What?!”

That was “similar to what I thought your reaction would be,” Fournier replied.

The figure was $1,250,000.

One commissioner asked Fournier to repeat the figure.

Fournier had prefaced his announcement with the comment that he felt the amount “was significantly lower than what I think the commission is interested in talking about.”

After he heard Shaw’s exclamation, Fournier added, “I don’t feel the need to discuss that in a shade meeting,” referring to a closed session allowed under the state’s Sunshine Laws.

Still, Fournier said, he wanted to make sure any board member had an opportunity to call for a shade meeting on the offer. “My assumption was that you would not.”

Mayor Willie Shaw. News Leader photo

“We will not,” Shaw replied.

The notice of the settlement proposal was filed in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court on Dec. 16, 2016, court records show.

During a telephone interview with The Sarasota News Leader on July 21, 2016, Fournier said the total of the expenses the city had incurred with the litigation at that point was “in excess of $3.5 million.” The attorney representing the city, Alan E. Tannenbaum of Scro & Hanewich in Sarasota, had had to hire a number of expert witnesses, Fournier explained; that had elevated the cost. The News Leader was unable to reach Fournier prior to deadline this week to obtain an updated figure.

The city’s legal complaint against AECOM USA dates to Feb. 25, 2013. In September 2009, the city allowed the firm to assume the original Lift Station 87 contract with Boyle Engineering Services to handle the design, permitting and pre-construction work for the new facility in Luke Wood Park near downtown Sarasota. That followed AECOM’s acquisition of Boyle.

The work was to include the installation of new gravity sewers between Lift Station 7 and Lift Station 87; installation of a new force main to connect with existing mains at Hudson and Osprey avenues; abandonment of Lift Station 7; and the decommissioning of the existing Lift Station 71 in Luke Wood Park.

Arguably, the most significant portion of the plan called for microtunneling under Hudson Bayou.

The city alleges that Boyle/AECOM should have ordered a thorough geotechnical analysis “typical for micro-tunneling operations,” but it did not do so. Even if Boyle/AECOM and two individual defendants “had been competent to draft a customized micro-tunneling specification, which they were not,” the city complaint contends, “their failure to order adequate geotechnical analysis rendered them unable to draft [such a specification for the lift station project].”

In its complaint, the city alleged breach of contract, professional negligence against the firm and professional negligence against the two individuals. AECOM has disputed the city’s allegations and says the city wrongfully terminated it for default.

In August 2013, the city retained another firm — McKim & Creed — to take over the Lift Station 87 project, which has been estimated at $32 million, Jan Thornburg, senior communications manager for the city, told the News Leader in a Jan. 5 email. However, she said, the total cost could change after the city bids out Phase II. The awarding of a contract for that part of the work is expected to take place in the middle of this year, the city’s website says.

Phase I, which entails the microtunneling under the bayou, began in August 2016. Phase II will focus on the construction of the lift station itself, which will be fully enclosed, city staff has stressed. The third phase will include the installation of the gravity mains necessary to complete the diversion of wastewater from Lift Station 7.

The project tentatively is scheduled for completion by the end of 2020.