Columbia County officials took action Tuesday to end a relationship with a contractor they said was taking too long on a stormwater project in Springlakes.
County Water Utility Director Bill Clayton told members of the county Public Works Services Committee last week that he sent a notice of termination to Jeffery Harris Trucking to stop work on a culvert replacement project on Sandalwood Drive in the Martinez neighborhood.
The deadline to finish the project was Friday, but Clayton said that only about half of the work had been completed.
Harris disagreed. He said Tuesday afternoon that 70 to 75 percent of the work was done, but didn’t speculate on if he would meet the Friday deadline.
Clayton said Harris or his insurance company had five days to respond to the termination notice.
Harris said Tuesday that he had received the termination notice and intended to meet with officials on Monday. However, he said he needed time to review his notes on the project before answering questions. As of Friday morning, Harris had not yet phoned to offer details.
“I just don’t think this type of work is what he’s accustomed to,” Clayton told commissioners regarding Harris.
Another bidding process might not be required to complete the unfinished job.
“We have to get somebody in there pretty fast to finish up what he’s got opened up,” Clayton said after the committee meeting. “We can’t rebid that and take all that time. We have roads opened up over there.”
However, Clayton said the replacement of a culvert on Kestwick Drive, which also was part of this project, might be rebid.
No digging had started on Kestwick Drive, eliminating the need for immediate action. Clayton said he didn’t immediately know how the county might proceed.
Following heavy rains, properties upstream of Springlakes on Reed Creek often flood. The $814,000 project is meant to prevent flooding by widening the culverts and parts of the creek.
Though Harris turned in the lowest bid, he nearly didn’t win the project due to misgivings by officials regarding his abilities.
“The issue ... is that in some of the background information we got on him; we didn’t get the best recommendations for his company as far as their ability to perform a job of that magnitude,” Clayton warned commissioners in May prior to them awarding the project to Harris.
During an April meeting, the project engineer, W.R. Toole Engineers, recommended that commissioners award the contract to Bean Construction, even though its bid was about $200,000 more than the one submitted by Harris.
“We’re more than qualified to do the job,” Harris said to commissioners in his defense. “It’s a fairly easy job.”
Reluctant to subvert the bidding process, the commission ignored the warnings and awarded Harris the contract.