Why are construction projects taking so long in Belle Fourche?

Progress on two Belle Fourche construction projects has been affected by weather over the last two years. Pictured here is the Eighth Avenue sewer interceptor replacement project when crews were dealing with flooding last November. Pioneer photo by Lacey Peterson

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BELLE FOURCHE –– Two major road and bridge construction projects in Belle Fourche are running substantially past projected completion dates and, according to the city and contractors involved, that is mainly due to weather. 

Steve Nafus, city engineer, said the majority of the issues that caused the projects to be delayed are out of man’s control, adding that all current construction projects in the Black Hills are behind due to weather issues.                             

“The weather has just totally messed everything up everywhere this year,” he said.

The $4.13 million Eighth Avenue sewer interceptor replacement project is two years in the making now — nearly a full year behind its scheduled completion date. The project’s design includes a new sanitary sewer main under Eighth Avenue, starting at the State Street lift station, continuing underneath the Belle Fourche River and near the post office at Eighth Avenue and State Street to the south, ending near National Street. 

Back-to-back wet winters greatly hampered the project’s progression, Nafus said.

“I don’t know why Heavy (Constructors) is so long overdue but that’s what penalties are about,” he said.

The project, which is nearing completion, was originally scheduled to be finished Sept. 1, 2018. Due to weather issues, the city approved a six-week extension, setting the expected completion date back to Oct. 15, 2018.

“We’ve been counting penalty days since … last year in October or November,” Nafus said. 

He said he recently notified Heavy Constructors that they were substantially completed by June 28 when Seventh Avenue was opened for travel.

“But if they don’t get up here and get their punch list done, we could restart those numbers again,” Nafus said. “They’ve been working on their punch list; they’re getting very close to being done.

A punch list is a document prepared near the end of a construction project in which the city lists work not conforming to contract specifications that the contractor must complete prior to final payment.

Nafus estimated approximately 200 days worth of penalty charges to Heavy Constructors on the project.

According to the contract, each penalty day carries a charge of $900, leaving a $180,000 potential hit to the construction company’s coffers.

That number could, however, be negotiable, Nafus said. The company could still request an extension for days missed due to weather. If a request was made, the city could consider whether the request was reasonable and whether it would forgive any of the penalties. The company has not yet applied for an extension.

“We’re (the city is) trying to make sure we recoup our costs for the extra engineering involved just to have inspectors up here for those extra 200-days or so,” he added. “That’s our biggest concern; that we’re not paying any more for stuff that we shouldn’t have had to pay for.”

On top of weather impacting the progress, Nafus said, the depth of the project and the amount of moisture in the ground at those depths is another contributing factor.

“I don’t think they anticipated it being so wet and having to pump so much,” he said. “The soil conditions were probably worse than they anticipated. But that’s the risk that they take when they bid these projects.”

The average depth for much of the Eighth Avenue project was between 20-30 feet.

Nafus said that the project was especially challenging due to crossing a river and two creeks throughout the construction.

“We went through two floods; (the) Belle Fourche River flooded on them when they were crossing (it), Hay Creek flooded on them,” he said. “They did the best they could and they’re still progressing.”

Nafus credits the construction company for being responsive. When he expresses a concern to them, he said, they respond in a quick manner to resolve the issue.

Attempts to reach Bret Olson, project manager with Heavy Constructors, were unsuccessful.

As for the replacement of the Hay Creek Bridge on Eighth Avenue just south of the police station, Nafus said, the delay can be totally blamed on weather and utility relocation that took longer than expected. Work on the project began Feb. 27.

“They gave us a new completion date of Oct. 19; originally, they were supposed to be done about June 20th or so,” he said.

But a May flood greatly impacted that project. According to the National Weather Service’s Rapid City office, Belle Fourche received 5.58 inches of precipitation in May. The average for the area in May is 3.1 inches. 

“It just basically wiped out everything we did (work done prior to the flood),” Nafus said. “And then weather has not allowed us to dry.”

Nafus said he has no problem with the bridge replacement project, feeling assured that the delay is mainly weather-related.

 To date, of the $924,908.05 contract amount, $388,443.41 worth has been completed and stored, leaving a $575,308.98 balance after retainage. 

Quentin Geddes, project manager with Ainsworth-Benning, told the Pioneer via email Friday that above average precipitation and utility conflicts are to blame for the bridge project delay.

“As long as the weather holds and allows for the material that is on site to dry properly, I am confident that we have put together a plan that will allow us to finish the project by the new proposed completion date,” Geddes’ email stated.

This spring, March through May, Belle Fourche received 9 inches of precipitation and 8.77 inches this summer so far, from June through Aug.

Nafus, who has been with the city for 35 years, said he’s seen city projects that have been extended by weather, but none that lasted as long as the sewer interceptor project has.

“Of course in 35 years, I’ve never done a $4 million sewer project either,” he said. “This was one of the largest projects we’ve ever done and it was supposed to be a year-and-a-half long. Have I seen projects go long, yes, that long, no.”

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