Paving errors continue to plague Carter Street

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By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register


“I guess, as a matter of procedure, I still want to know the answer of what’s the point of having inspectors on site if they’re not going to be listened to and the [contractor] is going to continue on and create a problem that could’ve been avoided,” said Elkader City Council member Peggy Lane at the Nov. 22 meeting.


The comment was in regard to the most recent paving error related to the Carter Street Project, which is something of a recurring theme, as this is the second time the council has dealt with this issue. 


Mayor Josh Pope immediately intoned, “they were in a hurry, Daryl,” which recalled council member Daryl Koehn’s concerns from previous meetings about the project being behind schedule and possibly being rushed. While this is the second time this has happened, unlike the first time, it appears this mistake could’ve been prevented, or at least halted, but it wasn’t. 


According to city administrator Jennifer Cowsert, the lines used to start this new section of paving were the original lines from Phase I, as opposed to the revised lines after the paving of Phase I. At a previous meeting, both the project manager for JB Holland, Mason Tieskoetter, and project engineer Hunter Nix from MSA, informed council that after the first mistake, this would be corrected and safety guards would be put in place to prevent it occurring again. So, prior to this paving incident, Nix set additional hubs for the paving company and did check points. At the 25-foot check point, according to Cowsert, Nix told the company it was off six inches. 


However, the sub-contractor, the construction arm of Croell out of New Hampton, did not agree, and according to sources, said the engineer’s numbers were off and kept going. In response, the engineer verified his measurements, but as he was doing that, the paving continued. At the next check point set at 50 feet, Nix once again informed the sub-contractor it was still off. It was at this point the company corrected it, but the correction resulted in what Cowsert described as a “jog” in the street.


Cowsert also said the sub-contractor informed her they “would not have stopped the paving machine because it is easier to remove cured concrete than to stop, remove wet concrete and then keep going.” Additionally, the sub-contractor said, “They would not have finished paving that week if they had to do that.”   


At the meeting, Lane questioned the entire process. “You have somebody telling you you’re wrong, and we’re paying that person to tell you you’re wrong, and the mistake still happens,” she stated. “We’ve been fairly patient so far, and somewhat understanding to this point, but this is beyond reason.” 


The ordeal had Koehn arguing that the contractor is just trying to “save money” and suggested they were “hurrying” and “cutting corners.” 


“We paid to have it engineered a certain way, and we paid to have that done and they didn’t do it that way and they’re under contract to do it that way,” Koehn continued. 


While the council expressed frustration, neither Nix, Tieskoetter or a representative from Croell were in attendance to discuss the error or respond to council questions. 


According to Cowsert, that decision was made at the staff level after they spoke with the contractor and sub-contractor and felt like they didn’t have “anything to add to the conversation at this point.” 


“If the council wants to talk to them, then we will ask them to be at a meeting. Emotions were going to run high on this issue,” she added. 


Cowsert also stated the sub-contractor accepted blame. 


It should be noted that Nix and Tieskoetter did not respond to requests for comment for this article. 


As the meeting progressed, the council discussed options, including having the contractor tear up the street and re-do it, which was labeled as the “nuclear option” by council member Tony Hauber. Another option was to withhold payment to secure some form of compensation. 


According to Cowsert, the contractor has offered to replace the curb on the north side to straighten things, but this does nothing to solve the overall issue of the entire street being misaligned. With that being said, the council can force the contractor to remove the problem area and replace it or they can withhold payment until they do, but either way, the council has a decision to make and the interest of the residents on the street to take into consideration. 


Council member Bob Hendrickson stated, “I think we should get compensation for this, because they didn’t do it right. I mean, after the conversation tonight…you know, why did we pay the engineers to do this, because we didn’t get the street we wanted…They didn’t do it right and they didn’t do it right twice.” 


“The whole thing stinks to high hell,” Koehn added. 


In addressing the issue of the engineer and Lane’s earlier statement about their necessity, according to Cowsert, there is no state requirement to use an engineer for inspection services, but she added that, without the engineer, the city likely would not have known an error occurred in the first place. “The contractor probably would not have told us he did it wrong,” she said. 


As for the contractor and how the company got the project to begin with, Cowsert said it was a matter of state law in regard to projects of a certain size. In this case, that means the city had to take the lowest “responsive, responsible bidder.” This basically means they have accurate paperwork and can do the job. Cowsert noted the city “hasn’t had any previous problems” with the contractor. 


While the council’s frustration mounted, Kim Werger, lead operator at PeopleService, took time to defend Nix. “Hunter was telling them it wasn’t right. He was doing everything he could within his power. As for having an inspector on site, he’s more than paid for himself, catching other things…he’s done a good job. You think you’re upset, he’s more upset than that.” 


As the conversation wound down, it became a debate about what to do, which prompted Hauber to suggest getting feedback from the residents on the street and Hendrickson wondered how to move forward. For Lane, it was also about principles. 


“We can make [the street] work…but the principle of it is they didn’t just screw it up once, they screwed it up twice. And now we’re supposed to just take it because we can fix it and make it work,” Lane said. 


“Through the whole project, they’re thumbing their nose up at us. They’re playing us,” Koehn added.

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