Sumner road project problems spur $3 million dispute

Benefits of a road project in Sumner and Pacific

Sumner Associate City Engineer Jason Van Gilder explains how the $20-million project improved Sumner's northern business district.
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Sumner Associate City Engineer Jason Van Gilder explains how the $20-million project improved Sumner's northern business district.

One of the biggest road construction projects ever undertaken by the neighboring cities of Sumner and Pacific is generating a flurry of new conflict between the two cities that commissioned its construction and the company that built the road through an industrial area that straddles the cities.

At stake is what ICON Materials, the project’s general contractor, says is some $3 million in extra costs it incurred in improving the Valentine Avenue-136th Avenue Southeast corridor between 24th Street East in Sumner and County Line Road in Pacific.

If the cities end up paying millions in extra costs, that financial burden may fall on the property owners whose land borders the street, Sumner Assistant City Attorney Andrea Marquez said. The project was largely financed with governmental grants, but those property owners agreed to pay the difference, which would have been about $7.6 million based on the original cost estimates.

ICON itself is among the adjacent landowners on the hook. The company’s corporate offices border Valentine Road.

The arterial at issue cuts through 1 1/2 miles of industrially zoned land on Sumner’s north and Pacific’s south sides. The widened and improved road is intended to allow better truck access to that industrial land, which is bordered by several warehouses and acres of potentially developable land. According to Sumner, its industrial area generates more jobs than any other industrial area in Pierce County.

Sumner, which managed the overall project on its behalf and Pacific’s, is girding for the dispute to end up in court if ICON and the two cities can’t agree on the extent of the extra work required and who is to blame for the project’s much-delayed completion.

The Sumner City Council early this year agreed to spend more than $200,000 to hire construction experts and lawyers to investigate ICON’s claims and to defend the cities in court if necessary.

Though only about one-third of the project lies within Sumner’s city limits, Sumner agreed to manage the project because Pacific, with 3,000 fewer residents than Sumner, was still recovering from the erratic management of recalled Mayor Cy Sun. Sun fired several key city workers and others resigned during his one-year reign.

Neither side would discuss the specifics of what went awry on the project, but ICON’s claim filed with the city shows what the construction company says were city and utility delays that added more than four months of work to the project. The project was substantially completed last summer, though a few minor items remain to be done, said Jason Van Gilder, the city’s associate engineer.

According to ICON’s claim, utility conflicts and extra work orders from the city were at the root of the delays.

The city had given the utility companies with pipes and lines adjacent to the street 180 days to relocate those facilities, but few had been finished by the late February 2015 deadline, ICON claimed. And contrary to what the utilities had promised, their relocation work began at the north end of the project, not the south.

That meant ICON had to work around the utilities that were still in place, sometimes delaying work for hours or days, the company claimed.

“As ICON excavated along Valentine, primarily for the storm sewer system and water main improvements, its crews encountered dozens of buried conduits, gas pipes, phone lines, side sewers, electrical wires, FAA fiber, and other utilities that were not shown on the city’s plans,” the construction company alleged.

“Each time a crew uncovered an undisclosed pipe, cable, or conduit, the utility first had to be ‘located.’ In many instances, neither the city nor the utilities knew what the conflicting lines were nor who owned them. They had to research what the utility was, who owned it, its function, and whether it was ‘live,’ before deciding what to do with it,” the claim stated.

Often, construction crews had to wait for Puget Sound Energy crews to physically hold up their poles while excavation happened nearby. Those poles should have been moved weeks before, ICON said.

“Routinely disregarding or dismissing ICON’s notices and requests for city intervention as ‘coordination’ issues, the city’s construction mangers at KPG (a firm the city hired to oversee the project) forced ICON to bear the substantial inefficiency and resulting cost of the defective plans and the city and utilities’ failure to meet their obligations regarding utility relocation window,” the claim alleged.

In addition, the city itself issued some 44 “field work directives” and change orders that ICON claims added 52 days of work to the project.

According to Van Gilder, the original contract called for ICON to finish the job in 350 working days. The city extended that contract period to 385 working days because of change orders issued by the city. The city said ICON substantially finished the job on the 517th working day.

The city has yet to file a definitive reply to ICON’s claims.

“We’re still in the discovery phase,” said Marquez.

John Gillie: 253-597-8663