By Ross Markman
Less than a month ago, Havre Mayor Bob Rice and public works director Dave Peterson said the city would fine the contractors on the new Havre water plant $2,000 a day if the firm didn't finish the multimillion-dollar project by July 31.
The contractor, Williams Brothers Construction, isn't done. The city, Peterson said today, is not going to punish the company.
"We haven't gotten to that point yet. We're still working with the contractor on that," Peterson said. "We're very close. Hopefully it'll be finished in the next couple weeks."
There's plenty of construction that still needs to be done at the water plant, superintendent Jeff Jensen said today.
"We still have to go into the old plant and modify it," he said. "And we still have outside work to do."
The new section of the water plant could be operational by the end of August, he said.
"We're hoping to get the new part going," Jensen said. "Next week we're going to try to put it online for a pilot test to see how things go."
During the testing Havre residents are not permitted to water outdoors from Tuesday through next Thursday.
"We're going to do some testing of the new plant starting Tuesday of next week. We're emphasizing to everybody not to water next Tuesday through Thursday," Peterson said.
Most of the remaining work on the new plant is inside, Peterson added.
"A lot of it is instrumentation, wiring, just finalizing the new plant," he said.
The new $6.7 million treatment plant was supposed to be completed by last October. Work began on the project in May of 2000. An extension was granted in October to Williams Brothers, costing the city about $200,000 in additional engineering costs and moving the completion date to July 31, 2002.
The city, Peterson said, will not incur any additional costs because work is going beyond the July deadline.
"There were some costs with the amendment we did the first time (in October), but that was it," he said. "We're still within the budget of the contract."
Barry Curtis, Williams Brothers project manager, said earlier this month that if work exceeds the deadline, it wouldn't be by much. Curtis couldn't be reached for comment today.
The October extension became necessary when Williams Brothers failed to meet the design requirements for the concrete mix, according to city officials. The extension gave the contractor more time to meet the standards.
John Williams, the company's general manager, said in October that Williams Brothers had submitted more than 10 batches of concrete mix for testing. All were rejected, he said.
The issue, Williams said then, was the amount of shrinkage in the concrete when it dried. The original mix they proposed would have been sufficient, he said.
Six months earlier, in April 2001, Williams Brothers filed suit against Baltrusch Construction Co. Inc. of Havre, a project subcontractor, over the concrete.
Neither representatives of Williams Brothers nor Baltrusch could be reached for comment today.
Williams said in its suit that it sent a written purchase order on April 10, 2000, to Baltrusch for 4000 PSI High Early Concrete at a cost of $89 per cubic yard. The estimated cost of the concrete, the documents said, was $178,000.
On May 9, 2000, the suit said, Baltrusch participated in a concrete conference, the purpose of which was to review the requirements of the proposed concrete mix design. At the conference, the suit said, Baltrusch did not object to any of the specifications or testing requirements of the mix.
On June 2, 2000, according to court documents, Baltrusch advised Williams Brothers that NTL, its testing laboratory, couldn't perform all the required testing. Baltrusch would have to finish the testing with a lab in Chicago, the Williams suit said.
Three days later, Williams Brothers told Baltrusch that its delays were impacting Williams Brother's schedule, the suit alleged.
On June 26, 2000, the project's engineer, Carollo Engineers, rejected Baltrusch's submittals for the concrete mix design because of the mix's air content, the suit said. Carollo requested test results for shrinkage and reactivity.
Three days later, the suit said, Baltrusch promised in writing that it would meet the specifications for air content. It also said Baltrusch would continue trying to meet specifications for reactivity and shrinkage testing.
"Williams Brothers' construction progress was delayed by having to wait for these test results to pass," the suit said. "As of August, 2000, Baltrusch had not been able to pass the tests for shrinkage."
On Sept. 21, the suit said, Baltrusch nullified its agreement with Williams Brothers in writing. Baltrusch said it would not supply any concrete materials unless Williams Brothers agreed it did not have to meet the specifications.
"Baltrusch also stated it could never guarantee that it could ever meet the specifications," the Williams suit said.
Due to Baltrusch's refusal, documents said, Williams Brothers hired other suppliers to complete the work at an increased cost to Williams Brothers. Williams Brothers' progress was delayed, the suit said, and "Baltrusch's conduct also forced extra work throughout a winter shutdown that would not have been incurred but for Baltrusch's delays to the progress schedule."
According to the April 2000 suit, Williams Brothers has incurred damages that could exceed $500,000 because of Baltrusch.
On July 1, 2002, Baltrusch Construction Co. Inc. filed a suit of its own against Williams Brothers.
The suit said Williams and the insurance company that provided the construction payment bond for the project owe Baltrusch $30,302.50.
In addition, it said, Williams Brothers rented various pieces of construction equipment from Baltrusch but didn't pay for its use.
The new plant will expand the city's water treatment capability from 4 million gallons to 6 million gallons. The project includes the installation of two additional sets of water filters, updating some existing equipment and moving several water basins.
The plant now, even with Havre's watering restrictions, pumps 3 million gallons a day.
The old plant, built in 1950, is almost entirely manual. Computers, Jensen said, are only used to check water temperature and levels, and to switch pumps on and off. Everything else is done by hand.
The new plant will not only produce 50 percent more water, it will also do much of the work, Jensen said.