Electrical engineering looks faulty in water project

Some questionable contracted engineering could wind up costing Henderson and the other partners in the Kerr Lake Regional Water System more than $40,000.

The heart of the problem, as Mike Acquesta explained it to the City Council’s Public Utilities Committee on Monday, is that new electrical equipment won’t fit into the raw water pump station for the water system.

The resulting changes to the $3.6 million contract for the raw water facility are worth $119,865 to construction contractor Thalle, Acquesta told council members John Wester and Mike Rainey.

The city hired Acquesta’s firm, Pierson & Whitman, since taken over by EarthTech, to manage the water system contract. That has left Acquesta to deal with a mess that apparently was created by the engineering and design firm on the project, Environmental Engineering & Technology (EE&T).

“I don’t want to put any disparaging remarks on EE&T,” Acquesta said.

Nothing is final at this point. The change order Acquesta brought before the Public Utilities Committee was just a proposal, dated March 17.

“We’ve been around and around with the contractor for six months with this,” Acquesta said. “This is the third change order for review that’s come through. … We’ve finally come to a satisfactory conclusion.”

Here are the changes Thalle says are necessary because of “actual field conditions”:

* The H-bank, an overhead electrical transformer to connect the water plant to Progress Energy’s wires, was moved farther from the pump station to make room for a crane the water system uses. That move required extensive wiring.

* A sectional electrical cabinet is being installed to control the power feeds.

* Because the electrical equipment could not be installed in the pump station with the space limitations set by existing equipment and various codes, the construction of a precast utility building and the reconfiguration of the electrical system are necessary. “Electrical work for the building itself, such as lighting, convenience outlets, fan wiring, mini power zone, other items specifically required to meet building codes, has not been included in our pricing,” Thalle project manager Lawrence Coningsby wrote.

* A ground transformer farther from the lake will replace the H-bank after construction, and that will require more conduit and wire.

* Thalle built a concrete slab for the raw water facility’s new generator and transformer.

All of that work would total about $215,000, but the movement of the electrical equipment into a separate building would cut the price of equipment and wiring inside the pump station itself by $95,167.82, producing a final cost increase of $119,865.

Thalle said it would further reduce that price by $7,500, to reflect reduced excavation costs in changing the depth of a 24-inch water transmission line from 2 feet to 6 inches, and by $20,800, to reflect a lower price than expected that the contractor got for a valve.

So if the Thalle change order is accepted, the added cost will be $91,565.

The contract has a $40,000 contingency built into Thalle’s bid and a $10,000 contingency to cover costs for the new power source. Thalle hasn’t tapped its contingency, and Progress Energy has agreed not to charge the water system for any costs linked to the new power feed.

If the city, as the manager of the regional water system, chooses to apply the $50,000 available in those contingencies, the additional cost for the change order will be $41,565.

Mike Hicks, who heads the water plant, said the $40,000 contingency Thalle built into its bid is separate from a $300,000 contingency the city budgeted for the project. The water system would have to tap that contingency fund to cover the additional costs — unless Henderson can reach some other agreement with EE&T.

“My first easy question is did EE&T drop the ball on the design?” Wester said. “And No. 2, when the engineers of all the different parties looked at the design, did they miss the ball? Was there anybody missing something here?”

Acquesta was leery of criticizing a fellow engineering firm. Hicks, however, said he had several problems with the EE&T’s work.

For example, he said a further design flaw is going to cost $10,000 to $12,000: Some valves in 24- and 36-inch pipes were designed to turn to wrong way. That fix is not part of the electrical change order.

“There were some design issues in the electrical we knew from the very beginning, and a lot of the contractors were told we’d work it out in the field,” Hicks said. “Working it out in the field — here’s working it out in the field. … You just can’t stretch the building.”

He said EE&T is likely to deny doing anything wrong, but “they’ve got a 24-inch waterline running right through a light pole.”

Those are the kinds of problems the water system, Acquesta and Thalle are working through.

Hicks said they’ve done some innovative things to keep the project moving despite the problems. Most of the piping is set, and the first shutdown of the pumping station is set for the week of April 11 to allow work inside the facility and to complete much of the electrical work involved in the change order.

“If we don’t do this, you’re going to be faced with stopping the project,” Hicks said.

If the project stretches beyond Dec. 31, the water system will have problems with the Environmental Protection Agency grant funding the work and with the Army Corps of Engineers.

“We’ve spent six months working on this stuff, and we’re at the point where we need to build this. It has to be built,” Acquesta said. Who should pay for it is another question.

“It’s got to be paid,” Rainey said. “It’s inevitable.”

Wester said Henderson should put EE&T on notice that changes are being made and that the city might want the engineering firm to pick up some or all of the cost.

“There’s other issues coming?” Wester asked.

“There’s other issues coming,” Acquesta said.

Acquesta said it’s possible EE&T could offer some brilliant solution, so Wester asked him to go back to EE&T and discuss the situation before the change order is brought before the City Council.

Still, time is short. Hicks said that if the electrical changes aren’t approved before the scheduled April shutdown, much of the necessary work won’t be done. That will throw off the schedule for a bigger shutdown coming in July.

The next City Council meeting isn’t until April 11. If a proposal is ready for council action, City Manager Eric Williams proposed calling the council into a special session during one of its budget review sessions during first week of April.

“We need to do this as quickly as possible,” Acquesta said.