Samples from Pacific Pile & Marine. Image from claim documents.

PND Engineers last week rebuffed the small boat harbor expansion contractor’s claim that the seafloor was harder than described in bid documents for dredging operations.

Harbor expansion contractor Pacific Pile & Marine notified the borough in July of differing site conditions after experiencing dredging delays and in October estimated the additional labor and equipment costs at about $1 million.

In 2013 PND analyzed the dredge basin for a geotechnical report that was used to determine the project’s expense. In its response to the contractor’s claim, PND questioned the sample size Pile & Marine used to test the dredge materials as well as the accuracy of its testing methods.

Pile & Marine collected samples for testing on Aug. 11 from an area in the southwest corner of the dredge basin near the beach after the contractor dredged the bulk harbor. PND said the sample size was too small.

“Applying the results of limited and selective sample testing across a roughly five-acre dredge site is an extremely broad generalization to make,” PND Engineers Vice President Dick Somerville wrote to Pacific Pile & Marine Project Manager Andy Romine.

Pile & Marine hired the geotechnical consulting firm C.W. Felice, LCC to assess the dredge materials. Felice Managing Principal Conrad Felice wrote in a report to Pile & Marine: “It is my opinion that the geologic materials encountered by PPM during the dredging operations were materially different than those represented in the contract documents.”

Felice used a firm out of Washington, Mayes Testing Engineers, to test the dredge samples for weight, compressive strength and grain size. Based on those tests, Felice said the material weighed more than PND reported in contract documents and that the compression strength of the material was “2.5 to 13 times higher” than what was described in the contract documents.

Somerville said there was no indication the tested samples were properly wrapped or sealed to prevent moisture loss or disturbance during transport “per industry-standard practice.”

“Both in-situ moisture content and a relatively undisturbed sample state are critical if the sample is to be subjected to any kind of strength testing,” Somerville wrote. “Neither of these practices appear to have been employed.”

Somerville also questioned the use of a pocket penetrometer to test the compressive strength of the samples, the application of which “is only valid for fine-grained soils (silts and clays), which the samples obtained by (Pile & Marine) are not,” his letter said.

Felice said Pile & Marine is entitled to receive a fee adjustment because the hard bottom caused dredging delays.

Somerville countered that many of those delays were due to equipment breakdowns not associated with dredging. A crane with clamshell dredging equipment “experienced extensive mechanical damage” while working on a wastewater outfall installation project in April, Somerville wrote.

Based on PND onsite inspection reports, Somerville cited 27 days of lost dredge time due to Pile & Marine’s “Loss of the (crane) for approximately four months during this critical time period, coupled with equipment task reassignments and other equipment down time.”

In his letter, Somerville requested Pile & Marine address eight “clarification requests” including whether or not material strength tests were completed in accordance with recognized testing standards.

Earlier this month Pile & Marine again notified the borough of differing site conditions where it’s been driving pilings for the steel wall wave barrier. The contractor will provide PND with evidence supporting the recent claim.

Pile & Marine’s Romine did not return a call for comment.

The CVN reached out to civil engineering faculty at the University of Alaska Anchorage for insight into both Pile & Marine’s and PND’s statements but they did not respond by press time.

Haines Borough Assembly members have expressed concern about the harbor project. Assembly member Tom Morphet said during a Nov. 7 meeting that the assembly approved the steel wall breakwater design because PND’s technical reports indicated the ground was too soft for a rubble mound breakwater, which cost more in the short-run, but was what many in the community supported.

Somerville is tentatively scheduled to speak with the assembly at its Dec. 4 regular meeting.

The borough has $1.8 million left from the $20 million in state grants for the harbor project along with a little less than $500,000 in contingency fees, Public Facilities Director Brad Ryan said.

In related news, the Alaska Department of Labor is investigating Pile & Marine for being out of compliance with requirements to certify payroll for 20 weeks and not meeting the Alaska Preference Law, a law that requires contractors to hire 90 percent of its laborers from Alaska for state funded projects. The Department of Labor received a “telephonic complaint” about the preference law associated with the small boat harbor project.

Department of Labor supervisor Joe Dunham said the agency is currently investigating the allegations.

In a Sept. 28 letter to Pile & Marine Department of Labor Wage and Hour Investigator Joshua Smith cited multiple penalties with fines totaling $551,349. The Department of Labor met with Pile & Marine representatives last month to provide them an opportunity to “eliminate the alleged violations.”

According to state law, all penalties incurred by Pile & Marine will be retained by the contracting agency by way of credit, in this case the Haines Borough.

Dunham said Pile & Marine is “cooperating fully,” has provided requested documentation and that the penalties could decrease depending on whether or not Pile & Marine can dispute the alleged violations.

“Our initial figure is pretty high but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to stay there,” Dunham said of the fines.

The Department of Labor investigated Pile & Marine for similar complaints at a project in Unalaska in 2012 with fines totaling $86,430. The state and the contractor settled for $10,000 in that case, “in order to avoid the expense and delay of litigation,” according to the settlement agreement.