2011-05-28 / Editorials & Letters

A ray of light

Finally there is a ray of light in Buckeye Lake. No, it’s not seeing some sunshine after all the rain, though that would be welcome too. After months of indifference, it appears that several Buckeye Lake Village Council members have finally realized how poorly ME Companies have served the village. We were particularly heartened by council member Kaye Hartman’s comments. The awakening was reflected in a unanimous vote Monday night to conduct a Request for Qualifications for engineering services for the first phase of the village’s storm water management program.

The first phase is funded with an Ohio Public Works Commission (OPWC) grant of $358,827, an OPWC interest-free loan of $119,609 and $25,181 in village funds. M•E Companies submitted a “free” application for the grant/ loan last September. But nothing is really “free” from M•E. For example, they charged the village more than $6,000 to organize the 30-minute groundbreaking ceremony for the water system back in June 2009.

The storm water project estimate includes $62,000 for engineering services, allowing M•E to wallow up to the Buckeye Lake trough again. The project is relatively simple, replacing about 3,688 linear feet of the village’s existing storm water system. Twenty-two storm water structures will be removed, replaced by 26 new catch basins. The application notes that existing rightsof way and easements will be used and that no permits are required.

As usual, M•E’s engineering services are grossly overused. Preliminary design is $8,000 with an additional $24,000 for the final design. Even at project manager Randy A. Stoll, P.E’s rate of $135 per hour, that allows 59 hours - nearly a week and a half - for the preliminary design and 178 hours - nearly four and a half weeks of his time - for the final design. That’s almost SIX 40-hour workweeks to design a project that is basically digging up the tile in place and replacing it with larger diameter tile. The only issues are pipe sizes, elevations and locations for the new catch basins. Even M•E should be able to complete the design in ONE 40-hour week. I bet M•E will spend more time trying to justify their design hours via “contract/construction administration” charges than on the actual design.

Bidding is an additional $7,000. That’s typically a Jack Christy job who is billed at $70-$75 per hour. So that’s going to take 90-100 hours (nearly 2.5 full weeks) of his time? We don’t have much faith in his work, but he should be able to handle it in 24-32 hours.

The construction phase is a whopping additional $23,000. That’s mostly to pay Christy $70-75 per hour to watch the contractor ignore key specifications. Stoll’s specification sheet submitted with the grant application calls for 12-42 inch PVC tile “complete w/bedding & backfill.” We got precious little “bedding” on the original water distribution system and none on the Hunts Landing extension. Since “bedding” is particularly important on pressurized lines, I doubt we’ll be seeing any “bedding” on this project. It’s another fictional M•E specification like the tack coat on our street-resurfacing project.

Let’s say that $23,000 for the construction phase is split between Christy at $70-75 per hour for inspection and Stoll at $135 per hour for “contract/ construction administration.” Using Christy’s top rate, means he’ll be spending 153 hours or nearly FOUR 40-hour weeks looking the other way while the contractor is installing the new tile. For Stoll, that’s another 85 hours or more than TWO 40-hour weeks of “contract/construction administration.” For M•E, the most tiring part of the entire project is likely making sure that Buckeye Lake is billed right at or very close to that $62,000 estimate. That’s what they have done on their last three Buckeye Lake projects.

It’s shocking when you total the hours. Stoll would be working solely for this project for just over EIGHT WEEKS while Christy would be putting in over SIX full-time weeks. That’s over 14 full-time weeks! It’s a ridiculous amount of time for such a simple job.

As Peggy Wells wrote here last week, it’s time for Buckeye Lake to divorce M•E. They have abused the trust we have placed in them too many times. For example, it’s been nearly four months since Cranberry Lane started disintegrating. So far, M•E has only made a vague promise that it will be repaired. It will require far more than a few patches to do it right. M•E has had plenty of time to design that repair and to explain how they plan to address the cracks and pavement breaking off all over the village. They have done nothing, but to line up more overcharged work for themselves.

Consequently, the RFQ’s objective must be to pick a firm to REPLACE M•E, not just to look at possible alternatives. Council members will have to stand fast to make sure this process comes up with a new, more trustworthy engineering firm for village projects. M•E has some powerful supporters - Mayor Rick Baker and Council President Charlene Hayden - who may drag their feet on the RFQ and then try to stampede council into staying with M•E to meet project deadlines. Those project deadlines were arbitrarily set by M•E. One has already passed and it couldn’t have been met anyway because OPWC funds won’t be available until July 1. M•E set the completion date for November 15.

Sue Spiker, of the Licking County Planning Commission staff, is the OPWC grants coordinator for District 17. She told us that the completion date will remain November 15, but it can be extended with OPWC’s permission which “occur(s) frequently.” She adds that OPWC’s main concern is “getting projects started and OPWC would like to have projects started within a year of the grant agreement...” That means council has plenty of time to do a thorough RFQ. If an extension proves necessary, it will be for a good reason - lower engineering costs and higher quality workmanship. Who could object?

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