Nine-month construction delay on West Linn water treatment plant angers neighbors, surprises project managers

Nine-month construction delay on West Linn water treatment plant angers neighbors, surprises project managers
by Michael Bamesberger
The Oregonian/OregonLive

February 12, 2015

The Lake Oswego-Tigard Water Partnership, which is about half-way completed, will deliver Clackamas River water to both communities next year.

The Lake Oswego-Tigard Water Partnership, which is about half-way completed, will deliver Clackamas River water to both communities next year.

Last month, neighbors in West Linn’s Robinwood neighborhood were surprised to learn construction work on the water treatment plant near their homes — loud, sometimes ground-shaking work — was to continue much longer than they expected.

In a letter, officials in charge of the project indicated the contractor, Slayden Construction Group, is at least nine months off schedule. Now, instead of wrapping up work on the project in May 2016, construction is expected to continue into 2017.

Residents near the water treatment plant, which has been under construction for a year and a half, were not pleased. “It’s very disheartening,” said Yvonne Davis, who lives across the street from the plant. “It was hard enough already.”

Officials with the Lake Oswego-Tigard Water Partnership, which is in charge of the project, said they were also surprised by the news.

Joel Komarek, the director of the project, said officials were led to believe the construction was on track until October, when Slayden Construction Group released a new schedule indicating the delay. Officials say they are now looking into how the construction got so far behind.

“We’re still investigating the records,” said Katy Fulton, the partnership’s citizen information specialist. Weather or equipment delays might be possible explanations, she said.

The construction on the water treatment plant is a crucial part of a $254 million expansion of Lake Oswego and Tigard’s water systems. Once completed, the plant will pump up to 38 million gallons a day from the Clackamas River through a new pipeline to ratepayers in each community.

The delay may require an amendment to the partnership’s $66 million contract with Slayden Construction Group, Komarek said, especially if it is determined there will be additional costs. And there will almost certainly be additional costs, he said.

Who will pay for those costs is still to be decided, Komarek said. The partnership can contractually impose a fine on Slayden Construction Group, but at this time, it has no intentions of doing so, he said.

At this point, the total cost of the $254 million project has not changed, Komarek said.

The most important deadline arrives on July 1, 2016, when Tigard’s contract to buy drinking water from Portland expires and water from the Clackamas River is set to arrive.

The partnership believes that deadline will be met, despite the delay on the treatment plant. The contractor is already altering its work so that it may meet the deadline, including working longer hours and re-sequencing phases of the project. Fulton said the partnership is also looking for ways to shorten the delay.

In Tigard, officials are keeping a close eye on the deadline, said Tigard City Councilor Jason Snider, who also serves on the project’s Oversight Committee. Both Tigard elected officials and city staff have long been concerned about progress on the plant, he said.

“Part of what makes this so complex is that it’s a fairly small construction site,” he said. “And they have to keep operating the water system throughout the construction.”

Officials are discussing the implications if the water cannot be delivered to Tigard on time, Snider said. There is concern about increased cost and continued disruption to the Robinwood neighborhood, he said. But one thing the delay won’t mean is that ratepayers will go without water, Snider said. The city might continue purchasing water from Portland until the project is finished. Otherwise, the city has millions of gallons of water stored for emergency uses, he said.

In West Linn, residents crowded a City Council meeting on Monday to express their anger about the delay.

“West Linn City Councilors: Don’t tell LOT you are merely disappointed,” said Steve Hopkins, who lives near the plant. “Tell LOT to meet the deadline they agreed to.”

The expansion of the plant, which Lake Oswego has operated in the neighborhood since 1968, has been unpopular from the start. Several years ago, residents organized to stop the project and became entangled in multiple lawsuits.

In 2012, the city’s Planning Commission rejected the construction permits, but the City Council later approved the permits on appeal.

Teri Cummings, a former West Linn City Councilor, and Robinwood neighbors say one of the factors in approving the application hinged on Lake Oswego officials estimate that the work could be shortened from 32 months to 28 months. Now the project could take up to 37 months and the city should hold the partnership accountable.

But on Monday, the city’s legal counsel announced that the city does not have the authority to enforce a specific construction schedule. The timeline Lake Oswego offered was apparently not included in the approved permit and was not a condition of approval.

Neighbors were not happy. The digging, the looming cranes and the heavy trucks rolling through the neighborhood has made daily life difficult, several neighbors told the council. Davis, who lives across the street, asked the council why there was no oversight of the project.

“A suspicious person might conclude that the 28 month timeline was never a real plan, but in fact a sales job, eagerly bought by a gullible council,” Davis said.

West Linn City Councilors grilled Komarek on how he planned to mitigate the prolonged construction.

“I want to reiterate my disappointment,” said Councilor Russ Axelrod. “I’m disappointed you didn’t come with more solutions.”

Councilor Jenni Tan suggested that the partnership, if it chooses to pursue a fine against Slayden, share some of the money with the Robinwood neighborhood. The extra funds could go toward Robinwood Station, the nearby community center.

Komarek apologized for the delay and explained that the council could authorize crews to work longer hours, or on Sundays. But at some point, more construction brings safety concerns. The truly disruptive construction work will end in fall 2016, he said. From there, the work will be minor or take place indoors.

West Linn Mayor John Kovash suggested Komarek meet with officials from West Linn, Tigard and Lake Oswego and discuss the delay further.

“In view of what’s transpired, we need more dialogue and more answers,” he said.