By ASHLEY HELMS
After 18 months of construction, numerous anticipated finishing dates and one broken sewer line, the Jefferson Avenue Bridge remains closed to vehicular traffic with no opening date in sight.
The bridge was officially closed in September 2012 to increase space between the base of the bridge and the Mamaroneck River in order to help mitigate flooding issues in the area, but members of the community have grown increasingly concerned with the timeline of the project and a perceived lack of transparency from village officials regarding what has caused the delays.
Perhaps most notably, construction was halted when a 21-inch sewer line was broken at the Jefferson Avenue Bridge site in March 2013.
The leak caused 3 million gallons of raw sewage to leak into the Mamaroneck River, which ultimately flows into the Long Island Sound.
Stemming from the break, the village was ordered to pay a $17,000 fine to the state Department of Environmental Conservation in September 2013. .A change work order worth roughly $1 million was finalized in January 2014 for the replacement of the sewer line. Arben Group, the Pleasantville-based contractor responsible for the project, will be ordered to pay for the fine handed down by the DEC. The change work order for the sewer replacement, worth about $1 million, was put into effect in January.
In July 2013, it was reported by the Mamaroneck Review that the village did outline the sewer line in the original site plan documents, but Assistant Village Manager Dan Sarnoff was quoted as saying at the time of the article that the sewer main wasn’t shown on the original plans.
The markings on the original documents weren’t clear in outlining if there was a sewer line at the construction site and the village didn’t know the pipe was still being used to transport sewage, Village Manager Richard Slingerland said. He denies the village knew specifically about the sewer pipe and said that the markings on the documents appeared to be man holes instead of a sewer pipe.
Documents obtained by the Mamaroneck Review suggests otherwise.
A letter from Village Attorney Charles Goldberger to WSP Sells‑the company tasked with designing and outlining the bridge project‑in March 2013, after the break, indicates both the village and Arben were aware of the sewer line’s presence when it was broken.
According to Goldberger’s letter, the village marked the sanitary sewer line on documents used to determine where construction could occur in September 2012. The letter states Arben, at no additional expense to the owner, was to protect all sewer pipes and any utilities laid across or along the site of the work and claims Arben is responsible for, among other things, emergency repair work, fines imposed by the state Department of Eenvironmental Conservation and delay costs associated with the bridge work.
When asked if the village plans to enter litigation with Arben and WSP Sells over the break, Slingerland said the village is “exploring the records and exploring their options.” As it stands, the project has cost the village roughly $4 million, but Slingerland said costs may increase.
The project was initially estimated at $1.2 million to be split between the village and Town of Rye.
The Arben Group was awarded the bid to revamp the bridge in May 2012. According to the contract between the village and Arben, the construction was not to exceed six months, from Jun. 1, 2012, to Nov. 30, 2012. The project could be extended an additional six months, until May 31, 2013, only with written authorization from Slingerland.
According to Slingerland, written authorization did not occur and the over-extending of the contract by Arben is under review by the village’s legal counsel.
The project also hit some weather-related delays, including heavy rainfall in the summer of 2013 followed by extremely dry weather that made it difficult to continue with construction, Slingerland said, and the past few months this winter have not been conducive to bridge work either.
“Now everything is delayed because of extreme cold. We have had delays in relation to the bridge panels being delivered recently,” Slingerland said.
In October 2012, the village Board of Trustees approved a change work order for the project, stating that, following the awarding of the bid to Arben, the village discovered the contract omitted a requirement for a performance and payment bond.
A performance and payment bond is to protect the village in case of bankruptcy or financial default by Arben, according to Slingerland. Arben was required to produce a performance bond due to the additional expenses not included in the original contract, the village manager said.
The initial Nov. 30, 2012, completion date arrived, but construction was halted at the site around that time; a stop work order remained in place until February 2013.
But there are other problems.
According to the contract, discontinuation of work for more than 72 hours wasn’t permissible without written authorization from the village engineer.
Slingerland said that, in November 2012, the village was still recovering from Hurricane Sandy, which hit just a month prior. There was a gasoline shortage and fallen trees were blocking many roads, he said, making it difficult to work, and halting construction. Any extension of the contract was covered by the performance and payment bond, he said.
Another issue that drew considerable criticism from the community and added to delays in construction was Arben subcontracting out for sheet piling work at the site. The subcontractor pulled out and Arben was unable to find a new subcontractor at an equivalent price.
The contract between Arben and the village states in section 103, under subcontracts, that “the contractor shall not execute an agreement with any subcontractor or permit any subcontractor to perform any work included in this contract until he has received written approval of such subcontractor from the owner.”
The village manager said Arben had a verbal agreement with a subcontractor to do the sheet piling work, but the subcontractor fell through. In order to try to stay within budget, he said, Arben removed Jefferson Avenue street paving from the contract.
A written agreement to subcontract between the village and Arben was never made.
In May 2013, the village anticipated the bridge project would be completed by August 2013 if not sooner, but to date, the bridge remains impassable.
May 2013 was supposed to be the final completion date, with written authorization from Slingerland, according to the contract.
Slingerland said the village was given numerous completion dates by Arben that they were unable to live up to and the construction company ran into many unexpected road blocks in finishing the project.
“There was major additional work of moving of unsuitable soil, that was a major issue,” Slingerland said. “We lost six weeks to heavy rain at the end of May and into early June. They couldn’t work in those conditions.”
Going forward, Slingerland said the village is eager to finish the project. The bridge and the section of Jefferson Avenue leading up to it must be paved to even out the roadway, but that can’t continue until the weather gets warmer because otherwise, the concrete will crumble.
Slingerland said it’s difficult to say when, exactly, the bridge will be finished.
“We need 8 to 10 days of extended weather of 40 degrees plus,” Slingerland said. “It’ll be a little while longer.”