Clewiston not looking over shoulder on C-21 span

CLEWISTON — City commissioners went ahead and approved two contracts on 5-0 votes in a special meeting Monday, April 29, to expedite planning for the new bridge at the city’s waterfront park.

Though its actual construction might be two to three years away still, the city has already missed a couple of deadlines in submitting bridge plans and had those extended three times by the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), most recently to July 31. The delays have been due to leadership changes since November, plus irregularities in work and billing done by Clewiston’s former lead engineering firm, Johnson-Prewitt & Associates, that led to its firing by the commission on April 15.

The two contracts are: a structural engineering services agreement with the Wantman Group Inc. (WGI), to conduct planning work for the C-21 Bridge Project, under a contract that would cost $139,000 total; and one to hire Johnson Engineering Inc. for technical services for the project, mainly complying with permitting processes, at an estimated contract cost of $171,500. The costs will be paid through an SFWMD grant to the city of $350,000.

WGI actually had been retained by Johnson-Prewitt previously and already has done most of the work but has been paid only $11,500 by that firm. With that company no longer working for the city, they needed to have a separate agreement, and the city still owes WGI over $100,000.

The commissioners had a slew of questions, and acting Interim City Manager Shari Howell did her best to field them; however, Andy Tilton from Johnson Engineering Inc. was present and able to assist from his preliminary reading of the documents turned over to the city by Johnson-Prewitt.

City Attorney Gary Brandenburg explained that since normal procedures had not been followed in Johnson-Prewitt’s hiring of WGI, that issue needed to be cured. “Because of some disagreement with the city’s former engineer … that contract is terminated. The city owes them a balance of about $125,000 for work done so far; they (WGI) haven’t been paid from the project in five months. So … I suggested we enter into an agreement directly with them and that they submit a proposal, which is the one in front of you, that lays out the work they did from day one until now.”

Commissioner Julio Rodriguez asked if they had submitted design plans yet, and Mr. Brandenburg replied that those had been sent electronically to SFWMD. “After we enter into this and catch them up on their pay, there’d be no reason for them not to supply as many (signed, sealed copies) … as we need. There’s a budget for maybe $5,000,” he said, “for their work in responding to any questions SFWMD might have.”

Mayor Mali Gardner asked Mr. Tilton to come forward and answer any other questions as well as he could.

Commissioner Melanie McGahee wanted to know if they could have WGI come in and give a presentation on the design. “What I would like to see is what it will be for the future. We want to improve that area down there,” she said. “I’m not sure they can revisit that stuff,” answered the mayor.

Mr. Tilton explained that the plans he’d seen called for a standard bridge with approaches built using mechanically stabilized earth, or MSE, “with concrete walls pre-formed, built in panels … it’s a fairly common construction method. They work together.” He noted that the bridge deck would be equal to the height of the Herbert Hoover Dike, “so there’s quite a bit of MSE wall on the south side to have the grade into the parking lot,” and that no frills were in the plans.

Ms. McGahee questioned whether they would be able to put architecturally pleasing details such as a different railing or a bass sculpture in the walls on the bridge, and Mr. Tilton replied that other styles are available that would meet Florida Department of Transportation standards.

“There would probably not be a significant cost difference if that was done upfront,” as part of the construction, he said. Mr. Brandenburg noted that such changes could be specified in construction documents.

Mr. Rodriguez asked whether there was a total construction cost or a timeline for the work yet.

“My understanding is we can’t start any until the cutoff wall is complete and the S-469 west; that project is going on right now … The cutoff wall will take a couple of years from the locks west until they’d give us access,” Mayor Gardner said, adding that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers “won’t know until the fall what their time frame will be, but it will be a construction site for a couple of years.”

Mr. Tilton said the bridge-building cost will be about $2.3 million, and Ms. Howell stated that the city is seeking grants for construction.

A final action by the commission was to OK a wireless services agreement with Harris Corp. for a license to access the voice communication portion of the wireless network, on behalf of the Clewiston Police Department.

Chris Felker can be reached at cfelker@newszap.com.

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