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Broward County seeks $34 million in damages for airport construction delays

By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org 

Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. The new elevated south runway is on the left.

Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. The new elevated south runway is on the left.

The ongoing construction saga at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport hit an unpleasant, unannounced milestone with a New Year’s Eve notice to a major contractor that it owes Broward County more than $34 million in damages for costly delays.

The county’s stunning claim is contained in a three-page letter sent to the offices of Tutor Perini Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood Venture (TPFLHV) by the county’s construction project manager, Parsons Transportation Group.

The joint venture between California-based Tutor Perini Corp. and Ohio-based Baker Concrete Construction Contractors is the county’s prime consultant for the tunnel structures that carry the airport’s expanded runway and parallel taxiway over U.S. 1, the Florida East Coast railroad tracks and East Perimeter Road. The venture also was responsible for other related construction including the new southbound airport exit ramp to U.S. 1.

The letter, obtained by FloridaBulldog.org, cites a dozen “significant…deficiencies and unresolved issues” regarding work scheduled to have been completed nearly two years ago.

“TPFLHV’s apparent inability or unwillingness to provide the supervision, manpower, equipment and other resources needed to satisfactorily complete the project has resulted in substantial additional costs to the county, for which the county will expect full compensation from TPFLHV,” says the document sent on county letterhead from Parsons project manager Melvinsky Ramirez.

The letter goes on to assert that Tutor Perini also owes the county “liquidated damages” for failing to meet various contractual deadlines. Those damages are growing at $4,000 a day, plus another $5,000 per day for the company’s alleged failure to turn over “as-built drawings” that show all revisions made to the original project drawings.

“The total amount of accrued liquidated damages and direct damages incurred by the county exceeds $34 million,” says the letter sent to Tutor Perini project manager Damon Petrillo. “This amount, which continues to increase, far exceeds the retainage being held by the county…Therefore, the county has advised that it intends to withhold future partial payments to TPFLHV.”

Asked if the county was prepared to sue to recover those damages, aviation department spokesman Gregory Meyer said, “The county intends to enforce the terms of the contract, which may include and require litigation.”

TUTOR PERINI BLAMES ‘MALADMINISTRATION’

Petrillo declined to be interviewed. But in a written response issued late Monday, he offered a blanket “rejection” of the county’s allegations and instead blamed the construction delays on “maladministration” by the Broward County Aviation Department, Parsons and county program manager Los Angeles-based AECOM.

Petrillo said the county, in fact, owes Tutor Perini tens of millions of dollars in compensable costs due to delays caused by those administrative failures. He added the county has used “deceit for the improper withholding of over $20 million in retention.”

Broward Commissioner Tim Ryan

Broward Commissioner Tim Ryan

Tutor Perini’s hard-line appears to draw the battle lines for lawsuits and countersuits.

“We’ve always expected to wind up in litigation over this,” said Broward Commissioner Lois Wexler.

“Tutor Perini is as adept at litigation as it is at construction,” said Commissioner Tim Ryan, whose district includes the airport.

While the commissioners have been made aware of the potentially costly dispute in private briefings from airport officials and other staff, the public has been kept largely in the dark.

“There has not been much public discussion,” said Wexler. “The airport doesn’t put out negative press releases.”

The county’s claim is the latest financial surprise to arise out of the $800 million, south runway expansion project – the centerpiece of $2.4 billion in ongoing airport improvements including the redevelopment and expansion of Terminal 4.

An 8,000-foot elevated runway was opened to much fanfare in September 2014. It opened on time, but another major project element, the $261 million construction of the tunnel structures over U.S. 1, lagged seriously.

On Dec. 9, FloridaBulldog.org reported that a still secret Broward County Auditor’s report found a $24.5 million cost overrun involving another contractor in the runway expansion project, Brazilian-owned Odebrecht Construction and Central Florida Equipment Rentals.

The report attributed most of that overrun to county requested changes, but said $1.5 million were “excessive and avoidable costs” due to “inadequate oversight and review” by the two companies hired by the county as program and construction.

MATTERS TO BE RESOLVED

The letter from Parsons says Tutor Perini has failed to submit a plan or proposed schedule to complete the project despite “many meetings and much correspondence.” It also lists a dozen matters “which will have to be resolved prior to final completion.”

They include:

  • Uncompleted work by Tutor Perini to repair airfield drainage grates, replace sod and correct stagnating water.
  • Water leaks from the runway deck to the tunnel walls, which have caused “continuing malfunctions and damages to the tunnel lighting system and the fire alarm system.”
  • Incomplete electrical conduit work.
  • At least 18 prior notices of noncompliance to Tutor Perini remain unresolved and without a schedule submitted to indicate whether Tutor Perini has a plan to fix them.
  • Various punch list items – deficiencies – have not been addressed.
  • Credits due to the county for various failures and omissions by Tutor Perini have not been documented or negotiated.
  • The county has not received architectural tunnel portals design, review, procurement and installation information; or the as-built drawings for utilities on the Northeast Tenth Street and the fire hydrant loop.

Tutor Perini’s response letter sought to refute those bullet points. Still, it did not provide the “required planning and scheduling information to close out the project” sought in the New Year’s Eve letter.

The deadline to provide that information: Friday, Jan. 15.

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