A dispute over paint waste that shut down a $4.2 million bridge project for the entire summer has been resolved, defusing commuter rage and averting a divorce between contractor and client.
A three-phase negotiation process, highlighted by a day-long “Facilitated Partnering Session,” finally resolved the project-stopping claims and counterclaims lodged during replacement of the steel deck grating on the 53-year-old Morrison Bridge, the largest mechanical device in Oregon.
Images: Conway Construction
|Work on the $4.2 million Morrison Bridge project was idled for months, inconveniencing 50,000 motorists daily.|
The lengthy shutdown incensed commuters—the bridge carries 50,000 vehicles a day—and cost the contractor $10,000 per week.
Tarp System at Issue
The dispute centered on the tarp system being used by the contractor—Conway Construction, of Ridgefield, WA—for containment of paint waste and construction debris.
Work on the project had barely begun in June when Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality notified Conway that the containment system had been breached twice in July, dumping paint waste into the Willamette River. A Stop Work Order followed the first breach, and Conway repaired the tarp; a second order was issued after the second breach.
DEQ called the breaches a Class 1 environmental violation but never cited—or even followed up with— the company, president David Conway said last week.
‘The Cadillac of Containment’
Over the summer, Conway noted that the county had approved his tarp system before use and said that the state had produced no evidence of contamination in the river.
Nevertheless, after the second spill, Conway submitted a new containment plan that replaced the tarps with what the company called “the Cadillac of containment options”—an engineered hard deck. The county did not respond to the proposal until Aug. 25, and then with minor modifications.
|The new fiber-reinforced polymer (FRP) bridge deck has already been installed. The 17,000-square-foot deck is the largest in the United States.|
Meanwhile, however, the county issued notification Aug. 2 that it intended to terminate the contract—partly because of project delays and partly because of the paint waste. The parties met for a Termination meeting Aug. 10, when the county rejected Conway’s “cure plan” for the project.
At the 11th hour, however, the parties developed a three-phase plan to resolve the dispute:
• Phase I would be a series of Pre-Work Interviews, to identify all issues and concerns.
• Phase II would be a full-day Facilitated Partnering Session, to develop a plan, clarify the “rules of engagement” and deliverables, and build consensus.
• Phase II would be ongoing maintenance and follow-up to monitor progress of the job.
The Partnering Session was held Thursday, Sept. 15. By late the next day, work had begun to resume.
Conway has already completed installation of the deck—the largest fiber-reinforced polymer (FRP) bridge deck in the United States. The 50-inch-thick, skid-resistant deck covers 17,000 square feet.
Critical to the resumption of the work was the hiring of a Third Party Neutral, an advisory individual employed (at shared expense) to help resolve disputes between the engineer and contractor “in order to prevent disharmony, disruption and delay in the work,” according to the contract.
The TPN would not only provide a third-party review and recommendations but aim to head off claims and disputes by identifying potential problems early and facilitating communications.
Each party nominated three individuals for the TPN role. The individual chosen is a licensed professional civil engineer and former chief construction engineer for a state department of transportation with extensive experience as a construction mediator and a claims analyst.
Conway declined to identify the TPN and said his company had not used one before. County officials had no immediate comment on the case.
A Break for Commuters
Although the dispute has already pushed back completion of the project, the county will shut down work again from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day—but this time, the goal is to give commuters a break.
“We’re doing this because we know how important [this] month is for downtown retailers,” county spokesman Mike Pullen told the Oregonian. “We want to help out the business and traveling communities.”
Work will resume shortly after Jan. 1 and will be completed about three months later.
Conway said his company and the county “now have a good working relationship.”
Pullen agreed. "Multnomah County is very pleased that construction has resumed on the Morrison Bridge lift span project. Conway Construction is making good progress and the rigid containment structure below the deck is performing well,” he said.
“The County believes the partnering session that was held with the contractor before construction resumed this fall helped improve communication and the working relationship between the county and contractor."