A dispute over spilled lead paint chips, containment issues and other problems has stopped a $4.2 million bridge project cold in Oregon, where commuters have spent much of the summer enduring tie-ups around the idled worksite.
Work to replace the 53-year-old Morrison Bridge’s steel grating in Portland had barely begun in mid-June when problems arose between Multnomah County and the contractor, Conway Construction, of Ridgefield, WA.
Cacophony / Wikimedia Commons
|Work on the $4.2 million Morrison Bridge project has been idle for weeks.|
Now, the county has given repeated notice that it intends to fire the contractor over multiple operational, safety and environmental problems.
In a Pre-Enforcement Notice on July 19, the state’s Department of Environment Quality informed Conway that the project’s containment system had been breached twice: on July 6-7, by burning material from cutting on the steel deck; and on July 17, from the weight of rainwater filling the containment structure.
On both occasions, DEQ said, plastic containment tarps dumped paint waste containing heavy metals and contained rainwater into the Willamette River.
The county issued a Stop Work Order after the first breach. After that, the company fixed the tears in the containment and resumed work. A second Stop Work Order was issued after the second breach.
DEQ called the breaches a Class 1 environmental violation—the state’s most serious category, reserved for significant harm or the risk of significant harm. The agency ordered immediate cleanup and remediation, dismantling of the old containment system and installation of a new, state-approved system.
David J. Conway, president of Conway Construction, said his company had tried repeatedly to resolve the disputes. He said that neither the county nor DEQ had produced any evidence that contaminants were released into the river.
“We just want to get back to work and try to complete as much of the project as possible with what little good weather remains,” Conway said in an email Tuesday (Aug. 30).
Regarding the July 17 incident, Conway gave this account.
On Friday, July 15, the company “vacuumed what little debris that had accumulated in the tarps,” Conway wrote. “The forecast that day called for 0.10 inches of rain over the weekend.”
The next day, it rained about 0.07 inches, and the company “inspected the tarps to insure they were draining.”
On Sunday, July 17, said Conway, “it rained a record amount. Conway was there pumping water, but the north end of the east tarp developed a tear and water spilled into the river. This tear occurred under the traffic side of the bridge, not the area over which Conway was working.”
On Monday, July 18, Conway was directed to stop work and was forced to lay off 14 employees.
‘Cadillac of Containment’
Conway also released an Aug. 9 letter from his company’s attorneys, noting that the contractor had revised its schedule to accommodate the county’s Dec. 1 project deadline.
Regarding containment, Conway said Multnomah County had initially approved the tarp system. Nevertheless, after the July 17 incident, attorneys Joseph A. Yazbeck Jr. and David H. Bowser say, the company submitted a new containment plan that replaces the tarps with an engineered hard deck—”the Cadillac of containment options,” they call it.
Conway said his firm had been waiting a month for clarifications and revisions to that containment plan—a response it finally received on Aug. 25. “This is an unreasonable delay,” and the long-awaited revisions were minor, Conway said.
Conway said his firm had completed contracts for eight bridges in three states last year alone. This year, he said, the company completed a bridge near Waldport, OR, that “included more rigorous containment specifications than the Morrison Bridge.” That work drew a glowing written review, which Conway produced, from the state Department of Transportation.
On Aug. 2, the county notified Conway that it intended to terminate the contract. The county cited:
• Significant project delays that have left Conway “without a plan or any realistic means for meeting the schedule.”
• The release of toxic materials into the Willamette River. “Conway’s violations are directly contrary to the County’s ‘no effect memo’ submitted to the Federal Highway Administration to secure permission to perform the Project,” the county said.
• The DEQ notice regarding “failures of Conway’s containment system, which failures allowed lead paint chips and contained water (without limitation)” into the river.
• Failure to provide the county with required documentation when transporting tarps from the failed containment system.
• Delays in river traffic “by failing to respond to call outs from county personnel.”
• Partially blocking the river with the containment system.
• Violating the stop-work order by performing work at the site on two occasions.
Conway responded, in part:
• Any impediments in navigation were the result of “slight and infrequent hiccups” in communication that have been corrected and do not merit termination;
• The tarps were tested by a third-party lab—with sampling locations chosen by the county—and found to be free of contaminants; and
• The stop-work order was not violated. One employee lowered a cage “to write on it in sharpie” and a third-party vendor, unaware of the order, was ordered off the site when the company learned of his presence, Conway said.
Cure Plan Rejected
After a Termination meeting Aug. 10, the county informed Conway that its “cure plan” for the project was inadequate.
The county “does not feel at this time that Conway has presented a complete plan to fix all of the problems that caused the county to issue the notice of termination in the first place,” wrote Jon P. Henrichsen, PE, Engineering Services Manager for the county Bridge Division.
The company was granted an extension to provide a plan that includes:
• Addressing all safety, environmental and work quality risks from an accelerated work schedule;
• An updated budget showing the cost of all projected cost increases;
• A revised safety plan; and
• Full implementation of a new containment system approved by DEQ and the state DOT.
“Finally,” wrote Henrichsen, “Conway must commit to working with the County to address disputes in the field,” including having a project manager or superintendent on the site at all times.
$10,000 per Week
Conway was the low bidder to replace the slippery steel grating on the bascule deck with fiber-reinforced polymer panels on the drawbridge’s leafs, The Oregonian reported.
The company has until Friday (Sept. 2) to get its plan together. Conway said Tuesday that his firm was about to submit the plan.
Conway says the standoff has cost his company $10,000 per week.
Multnomah County spokesman Hank Stern told reporters: “We want this thing to get done; that’s why we’ve extended the deadline to Sept. 2 for them to respond. We want to resolve this, believe me. We want the bridge open and ready for traffic.”