County Commission approves extra $17.6 million for all the work
Thanks to a unanimous Sarasota County Commission vote this week, a stalled sewer pipeline project that has kept lanes closed on part of Bahia Vista Street for more than a year should be getting underway again in several months.
The board members — with Commissioner Michael Moran absent — approved an extra $17.6 million for the initiative that they initially agreed to in October 2020.
None of the commissioners commented on the agenda item, and no member of the public requested the opportunity to speak during the Aug. 30 public hearing.
Formally, the vote awarded Forsberg Construction of Punta Gorda the contract to complete the South Gate Master Pump Station Pumps and Parallel Force Main project along Bahia Vista Street in Sarasota. The county will pay Forsberg $21,413,716.
A news release that the county Communications Department staff released after the vote points out that the timeline anticipates completion of the construction in March 2024. Work should get underway once more in about six to nine months — after the height of the 2023 tourist season — the news release says.
A county staff memo provided to the commissioners in advance of the meeting explained that the contract with Forsberg calls for the company first to focus on “discovery and restoration where appropriate while long lead time items” — valves that likely could not be delivered for 36 weeks, for example — can be ordered. “Resumption of the pipeline portion of the project would occur in the fall,” given the anticipated timeline for obtaining all of the necessary equipment, the county memo pointed out.
A separate county document, also issued by the Communications Department, said that the initial work for Forsberg will include the restoration of asphalt, curbing and sidewalks.
One other facet of the board vote this week entailed increasing the payment to the firm Atkins North America for its services during construction, the staff memo noted. Atkins will receive $1,883,008.25, instead of the original amount of $1,244,170.75.
Utility fees and revenue from the county’s current penny sales tax program — Surtax 3 — will cover the cost of the force main project, the county news release said.
“Residents and businesses in the immediate area will be notified by postcard at least two weeks prior to the start of construction,” the Aug. 30 county news release noted. Project updates will be available each week on the county webpages where staff posts its Construction – One Week Look Ahead reports, the release pointed out.
The project will improve sewage collection flexibility and increase the system capacity for transporting sewage to the Bee Ridge Water Reclamation Facility, which is located at 5550 Lorraine Road in Sarasota, county documents further note.
“We appreciate the community’s ongoing patience with this critical project,” said Mike Mylett, director of the county’s Public Utilities Department, in the Aug. 30 release. “Our focus remains on providing the best service to our customers, and this will help us continue that mission,” he added.
In the beginning …
In July — before the commissioners started their four-week summer break — Mylett addressed them about the problems that county staff had dealt with in regard to the sewer pipeline project.
As The Sarasota News Leader has reported, in October 2020, the commissioners awarded a $5,967,501.50 contract to American Pipeline Construction LLC of Miami to handle the initiative. However, in November 2021, county Procurement Official Jennifer Slusarz notified American Pipeline Managing Partner Andres Luna of the county’s intent to terminate that contract. American Pipeline, she wrote, had failed to perform its work as specified by the county contract.
In a Dec. 3, 2021 letter to Luna, Slusarz pointed out that county staff had given company leaders the opportunity to rectify the problems, but that had not occurred.
Luna protested, asserting that the company had addressed “the vast majority of [those] items.”
Nonetheless, work stopped, and drivers on Bahia Vista east of the Beneva Road intersection and those on Beneva north of the Webber Street intersection had to continue contending with barrels blocking off the outside lanes.
During heavy travel times, drivers faced extensive back-ups on Beneva Road, especially, as this reporter can attest.
During his July 13 presentation to the county commissioners, Mylett of Public Utilities explained that when county staff put the project out for bid again, after the dismissal of American Pipeline, it received only one response.
“We negotiated with a local contractor who was able and willing to take over the project,” he added. However, he advised the commissioners that, as a result of inflation and supply chain problems, the new bid was quite a bit higher than the one approved in October 2020. “That’s the way the market is right now,” he pointed out.
Nonetheless, the commissioners voted unanimously in support of the plans that Mylett had presented to them.
“I feel awful for these people in this neighborhood that are dealing with this,” Commissioner Moran said of the residents in the affected areas of Bahia Vista Street and Beneva Road.
Commissioner Christian Ziegler, who told his colleagues he drives in the construction area every day, added that he had “heard from countless citizens. … They’re pretty upset with what’s going on there.”
Other details of the project
The county staff memo provided to the commissioners in advance of the Aug. 30 meeting pointed out that the sewer force main in place “was constructed in multiple, segmented phases” from 2002 to 2006 “to accommodate increased wastewater flow from several completed areas of the Phillippi Creek Septic System Replacement Program,” as well as the decommissioning of the South Gate Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant, “and planned developmental growth within the northern sanitary sewer collection basin.”
The memo added, “The force main is nearing capacity …”
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) explains that a force main is “used to convey wastewater from a lower to a high elevation, particularly where the elevation of the source is not sufficient for gravity flow …” The land throughout Sarasota County is consistently low, necessitating the use of lift stations in the city and county utility systems, as commission Chair Alan Maio often has noted.
Along with the installation of the new sewer force main, the Aug. 30 county staff memo said, the Public Utilities Department staff has planned on the laying of county fiber optic communication lines, beginning at the site of the South Gate Master Pump Station. The fiber optic equipment is to be laid in same open trench as the force main, the memo pointed out.