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Lake Oswego's $100 million floating sewer line hits major hitch

Work on the pipe, mandated by DEQ, won't start this year as expected

Two contractors associated with Lake Oswego's $100 million sewer project say the project will not begin in September as planned.

Instead, they say, the job could be delayed for as long as a year, apparently due to a breakdown in contract negotiations.

The one-of-a-kind floating sewer pipe is still in its design phase. Once constructed, it will carry effluent through Oswego Lake east to a treatment plant on the Willamette River.

The buoyant pipe will replace an undersized pipe that now stands on pilings in the lake. The pipe is seismically unsound and prolonged rains have caused it to back up, prompting the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to mandate its replacement by April 21, 2010.

Construction of the floating pipeline, called the Lake Oswego Interceptor Sewer, was set to begin after Labor Day. In November, the city chose Barnard Construction Co. of Montana to lead the project after the company submitted the only proposal for the job.

Barnard was one of five companies that responded to Lake Oswego's request for proposals, advertised in Portland, Seattle and on the Internet. But two of the companies were deemed unqualified for the work and two others later opted not to submit proposals.

Delaying start of the work

For the past eight months, city representatives have been steeped in negotiations with Barnard, aiming to put a contract in place and begin construction on the interceptor sewer this fall.

As the general contractor Barnard would have supervised the construction work, much of which would be done by subcontractors. Now, two subcontractors potentially in line for work - Advanced American Construction Inc. and Crux Subsurface Inc. - say the project is off. Both firms were part of an early team established by Barnard to perform in-water work related to the project, such as fusing pipes and drilling the interceptor sewer's underwater anchoring system on the floor of Oswego Lake.

Dee Burch, president of Advanced American Construction, said the company was poised to construct between 15 percent and 35 percent of the total work on the project.

He said Advanced American did not have a contract yet, but expected to be chosen as a subcontractor by Barnard once the general manager's contract was in place.

Burch did not know why the sewer construction was now being postponed or whether the city's intent was to simply delay the start of construction or begin looking at new companies to perform the work.

"They had been saying construction would start in September and that is not going to happen,' Burch said. 'One possibility is they are looking at just starting next September or there might be some kind of phased approach.'

Alex McIntyre, Lake Oswego city manager, could not be reached for comment on the delay. Jane Heisler, head of public outreach efforts for the interceptor sewer, also could not be contacted for comment.

Attempts to reach Joe Nelson, vice president of Barnard, also were unsuccessful.

Refilling the lake

But Curt Nead, human resource and safety director at Crux, confirmed Burch's account of delays, adding that Lake Oswego has discontinued talks with Barnard.

'They have suspended talks at this point and said they need to reconvene and review information," he said.

Nead said he did not know the reason why the talks were suspended or whether negotiations were expected to resume at a later date.

He declined to comment on the size of the contract at stake for Crux, but said the company has a partner agreement with Barnard to anchor the interceptor sewer on Oswego Lake.

City officials were aiming to begin construction after Labor Day, in part to get an early start. The schedule also allowed crews to complete portions of the in-water work in time to refill the lake for summer recreation in 2009.

William "Skip" O'Neill, president of the Lake Oswego Corporation, said any delay in construction should not affect lake users.

"Our agreement with the city is that we would not lose summer boating activity on the lake. If they delay, all they would be doing would be pushing out what activities you might see on the lake" to a later date, he said.

O'Neill said he was not aware of a proposed halt to construction plans. He met with city officials as recently as Tuesday to review the city's construction schedule.