By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
Five months after demanding that contractor Tutor Perini pay Broward more than $34 million in damages for costly airport construction delays, ex-county aviation boss Kent George instead wants the county to pay Tutor Perini $18.9 million.
George and new aviation boss Mark Gale will ask Broward commissioners to approve the big payout on Tuesday as part an about-face settlement negotiated by George with the Tutor Perini Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood Venture (TPFLHV).
The proposed settlement would end a bitter, behind-the-scenes fight over who is to blame for numerous pricey construction holdups during the airport’s $800-million south runway expansion project.
George stepped down as aviation director in March and today is a county consultant/negotiator on the matter.
In January, FloridaBulldog.org reported that on New Year’s Eve George’s representative had dispatched a blunt letter to Tutor Perini demanding in excess of $34 million to cover costs incurred by a dozen “significant…deficiencies and unresolved issues” that had seriously delayed completion of the project.
Tutor Perini’s position: the delays were caused by the aviation department’s “maladministration.”
As recently as three weeks ago, George told the Sun-Sentinel, “We feel they owe us money.”
Out the window
George’s tough public stance went out the window Thursday with the disclosure of his expensive settlement proposal.
An angry County Commissioner Lois Wexler said in an interview Friday that she won’t vote to approve it.
“This has gone from them owing us money to now I’m supposed to pay them money,” said Wexler. “The last I heard was that we’d be recouping all this $34 million in court…What’s going on?”
George hung up on a FloridaBulldog.org reporter seeking comment about the proposed settlement.
The county, however, capitulated to Tutor Perini after the aviation department lost more than a dozen claims adjudicated before a “dispute avoidance panel” established at the outset of the project to resolve disagreements between the county and its runway contractors.
George’s giveaway of the county’s huge claim has come as a shock, however, because it followed repeated assurances to Commissioner Wexler and others that the county would go to court to enforce it.
Nevertheless, George was inclined to settle on terms favorable to Tutor Perini as early as mid-December when he emailed Tutor Perini Chief Executive Jack Frost offering to pay $21 million to settle the dispute if Tutor Perini would pay the airport about $11 million in liquidated damages for contractual delays.
FloridaBulldog.org reported in January that Frost declined the deal, which would have been tantamount to an admission that Tutor Perini was responsible for many delays in the airport project.
The current settlement proposal requires no payment of liquidated damages.
A local Tutor Perini representative declined comment, and Frost did not respond to an email requesting comment.
A prime consultant
California-based Tutor Perini, with venture partner Ohio’s Baker Concrete Construction, is the prime consultant for the tunnel structures that carry Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport’s expanded and elevated south runway and taxiway over U.S. 1, the Florida East Coast railroad tracks and East Perimeter Road. The venture was also responsible for related construction, including the new southbound airport exit ramp to U.S. 1.
The original contract completion date for the runway project was Feb. 22, 2014. In fact, the runway opened for air traffic in September 2014 and the project was declared “substantially complete” in January 2015.
Still, work at the airport goes on. Today, Tutor Perini is adding decorative and architectural features to the U.S. 1 tunnels – finishing work worth several million dollars.
The cost of the runway expansion project, the centerpiece of $2.4 billion in in ongoing airport terminal and other improvements, continues to rise.
County records say the original contract award to Tutor-Perini for design-build services was $179.9 million. Subsequent approved change orders, including one for $6.1 million executed just before Christmas, raised the contract’s cost to $226.2 million.
The latest “final” contract amount with the settlement: $239 million.
The negotiated settlement includes the $6.1 million that was approved but never paid to Tutor Perini, plus an additional $12.8 million. The county’s agenda item for Tuesday’s meeting does not explain how that figure was arrived at.
The six-page settlement requires Tutor Perini to complete all remaining work by Aug. 31. The county is also required to “promptly” pay what it still owes and to quickly release money, possibly millions of dollars, that it has retained to cover claimed damages.