December 22, 2014

Elyria
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Agreement settles legal feud between Elyria, pump plant contractor

ELYRIA — The city just wanted a new high-service pumping station at its Lorain water pumping plant. What it got was a project that dragged on for nearly three years and an arduous lawsuit.

A settlement approved by City Council on Tuesday night aims to allow for the completion of the project and puts an end to the civil case.

Law Director Scott Serazin called the agreement the best kind of settlement because neither side is happy. In the deal, Bay Mechanical, which was hired to complete the project, agrees to finish work by Nov. 7 and the city agrees to pay all of the money it has withheld for lack of work plus an additional $44,000 to cover a change order long approved for the project.

“A major goal for us was to get the project done,” Serazin said. “This settlement achieves that. But I don’t think anyone is happy. In fact, I know neither side is happy because we will never know what truly happened — if our design of the project was faulty or if it was the contractor’s work.”

Even with the additional $44,000 over the original contract, Serazin said he doesn’t consider the settlement a loss. Litigation alone on both sides has cost thousands.

“We lost time, and that’s more important,” he said. “It cost us staff time from being in court and for that we are not happy, but Bay Mechanical also spent a lot of money on attorney fees, engineers and expert witnesses. We were set for a three-week trial before the judge ordered us into mediation.”

Why the project failed may never be known.

Representatives from Bay Mechanical did not attend the meeting.

Serazin said the first issue came up in 2012 when it came time to put in the foundation for the building to house the new high service pumps. It sank almost two inches into the soil.

Almost immediately it set off a contentious relationship between the project manager and Bay Mechanical, which led Bay Mechanical to hire a second engineering company to come up with a plan to fix the building, which is something the city required before the project could continue.

“It was supposed to take 18 months to complete this project, but there were so many delays,” Serazin said. “The city started to assess liquidated damages of $1,200 a day for every day it was delayed. Eventually, Bay Mechanical just walked off the job.”

The pumps were installed in November and have been operational intermittently, Serazin said.

In the coming weeks, small fixes will be done by Bay Mechanical as well as connecting a new electrical system to the pump. Once the work is complete and the pumps have been tested, the project will close out.

Adding the new high service pumps at the water pumping plant was important for the city because it serves municipalities outside of Elyria including Amherst, North Ridgeville and the Rural Lorain County Water Authority.

“We are in a good position with our water plant,” he said. “We have the capacity to pump more water. Our intakes are further out and deeper than other pumping plants, and we don’t have problems like frazil ice.”

Accumulations of frazil ice — needle-shaped crystals — in Lake Erie clogged pipes in the Avon Lake water plant in January and affected Elyria’s water intake system in March.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com. Follow her on Twitter @LisaRobersonCT.