County impatient over Tunis sewer delays

Published 10:26 am Thursday, August 22, 2013

WINTON – Time to get a move on.

And the county would like for it to be a faster move.

Sunland Builders of Newport are behind in the construction of the wastewater/sewer collection system in the village of Tunis and the patience of the Hertford County Board of Commissioners, as well as that of County Manager Loria Williams, is wearing a bit thin.

At the bi-monthly meeting of the Board on Monday in Winton, Williams revealed a series of memos and e-mail exchanges between her office, the contractor, and the county’s engineering firm: the Wooten Company of Greenville.

The $2.14 million project’s original timetable calls for construction of the lines, manholes and pumps to be completely installed by January of next year. The water-tight system would then need to be tested for any possible leaks prior to coming online (hook-ups to residences) by the spring of 2014.

For many in the small community on the shores of the Chowan River the construction delay just adds to wastewater woes in the area that go back over 10 years.

Meanwhile, despite a ceremonious groundbreaking over three months ago, no work has been started

Williams presented the e-mails and other correspondence to the Board as part of her update.

“These (memos and e-mails) let you all know how seriously we have been in speaking with the contractor (about) being behind and off schedule,” Williams told the board.

“They did rise to the occasion of having something moving within the last 10 days,” she continued, though she confessed the movement was minimal because Sunland acknowledges being three months behind.

“They still feel they can finish by January 2014,” she went on to explain. “While that remains to be seen, there are liquidated damages built into the contract (with the county) and all of the lenders have been put on notice about the delays.”

Primary funding for the project has come from the U.S. Department of Agriculture ($1.329 million), along with funds from NC Rural Center ($500,000) and general obligation bonds ($307,000).

“We’re all aware of the delays, there is some movement; hopefully they will get on schedule and move quickly,” Williams said.

One e-mail from Wooten engineer Slade Harvin to Williams stated that Sunland reiterated to him that they intend to finish the project on time and they plan to have two or three crews working to insure the on-time completion.

“We have a meeting once a month, usually the fourth or fifth of every month to have a meeting with the contractors,” Williams said.

Several commissioners voiced concern over the pacing of the project. Williams informed the board there were alternative solutions.

“The alternatives would be, of course, to exercise our right under the contract to have someone else finish by calling their bonding company which would involve a further delay,” Williams said.

However, she did point out that at the mention of that, the work resumed within the last 10 days.

Commissioner Johnny Ray Farmer expressed his disappointment with the delay.

“I think we all expected when we met down there and dug some dirt that within a few days there would be a lot of work going on and we’ve all been disappointed that that has not happened,” Farmer said. He also complemented Williams for the keeping up the pressure to get the job completed.

“I appreciate the fact you haven’t let up on them,” he said.

Williams said it was at the board’s discretion if they desired to make a change, but cautioned that such a decision would further delay the project.

“We’re sort of between a bit of a rock and a hard place,” Williams stated. “But we still have those built in assurances; at least as much as we can have at this time.”

“How they perform within the next 10 days or 30 days is going to tell the story,” she added. “And then we’ll see.”

Commission Chairman Curtis Freeman said by the next commissioner’s meeting more should be known.

“We’ll get our direction from there,” Freeman said. “We may have a hard decision to make because we’ve been working hard to get this in.”

“I would hate it for the citizens down there because this would prolong it,” Freeman added. “But I’d rather prolong it and have it done right than to lollygag, because if you lollygag you’ll do poor work.”