A contractor and city staff came under fire Monday at a Paris City Council meeting for construction work on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and 17th Street NE, delayed for months because of frequent rains.

Both streets are part of a $24 million utility replacement project awarded in December 2015 to Oscar Renda Contracting as a part of a $45 million utility bond program approved by voters in 2013.

At issue is why the two streets have been torn up for months after crews installed new sewer lines. With work now complete on the utility project, crews are scheduled to begin a full-width asphalt overlay Oct. 5 on both streets.

Mayor Steve Clifford questioned both an Oscar Renda site manager and City Engineer Carla Easton about a required plan to handle ground water, and if that plan had been timely submitted to the city and approved by Easton. Clifford also questioned whether a 60-day weather delay variance had been filed, and if the city engineer responded properly. Neither questions

received answers.

Even with a weather variance, the company is subject to a $500-a-day fine because a four-year completion date is fast approaching its fifth year, Clifford noted.

“This really upsets me because we spent $24 million and it doesn’t look like we have done a very good job,” Clifford said. “I don’t want the city to have spent all this money and we have sorry streets the rest of our lives.”

Before the city approves the Oscar Renda work, Clifford suggested the city hire a third party to review the entire project, which includes sewer replacement under city streets in many parts of the city.

“It may cost us some money, but not as much as the $24 million we may have squandered away on this project,” Clifford said as he suggested there may be other problems with the contractor’s work.

At the mayor’s earlier invitation to address the council about the item he placed on the agenda, several homeowners spoke about trenches being repeatedly dug out, dirt piled in streets, rocks in the roadway and in yards and a general “disrespect” of residents shown by construction crews.

Other council members joined the mayor in expressing concern not only about the current project but also about continuous delays on other projects as well, namely the two-year delay on Church Street and the 17th Street SE project between Clarksville Street and Lamar Avenue.

“I feel the people there are being disrespected,” Councilor Gary Savage said about Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and 17th Street NE residents. “People are not just making this up, and we have to do our job, and the people we hire — that’s part of our job.”

In presenting a review of the project, Easton reminded the council the $24 million project is for utility replacement and not for street reconstruction like Church and 17th SE streets received. A street asphalt overlay, however, is part of the contract, she said.

After working during winter and spring months under wet weather, backfill material failed in June to meet density tests to allow for an asphalt overlay due to high moisture levels. The contractor moved to another location while materials dried. From time to time, the contractor would return to fill in the trenches after traffic would dig them out.

On Sept 19, the outside construction inspector notified city staff that all material had been reworked and all trenches had passed the compaction and moisture content test, making final street repairs possible, Easton said.

“The original plan was for two-inch mill and overlay, however, staff is working with the engineer and contractor about increasing the thickness to four inches to improve the longevity of the pavement,” Easton said. “Work is scheduled to being Oct. 5 with completion anticipated Oct. 10, weather permitting.”

City Manager Grayson Path urged patience while the $24 million contract is being completed.

“This is a very large, complex project,” Path said. “We need to get the project done and move on to closing this project out. It gets shaken out at the end and then everyone gets involved to decide what is fair.”

Mary Madewell is a staff writer for The Paris News. She can be reached at 903-785-6976 or at mary.madewell@theparisnews.com.

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