Sewer contractor Layne has warned the village that it will pursue financial damages if the town doesn't resolve a lawsuit holding up work in the Venetian Shores neighborhood by the end of this month.
In a Sept. 12 letter to Village Manager Ed Koconis, Layne's local program manager, Wes Self, also warned that the company would pursue damages if other issues causing delays on the $99 million sewer project aren't resolved promptly.
"We need all necessary team members to seriously consider the $5,000-per-day liquidated damages provision in the agreement still in effect," wrote Self, whose employer is known locally as Reynolds Water Islamorada. He added that Layne fully intends to meet its contractual deadline of Dec. 1, 2015, for completion of the wastewater project.
The Venetian Shores lawsuit concerns whether roads in the south Plantation Key neighborhood are owned by the village or by adjacent property owners. Filed in 2010 by neighborhood resident Jim Bellizzi, the dispute has had a direct impact on the sewer project. If the roads are, in fact, private, the village must obtain an easement from each property owner in order to install the sewer pipes. If they are public, the Layne team can begin work as-of-right.
But without either a resolution to the suit or the easements, nothing can happen.
Thus far, the two sides have shown no sign of resolving the matter. The case is scheduled to go before a judge on Oct. 3, when the village will ask for a pretrial ruling that the roads are public.
In the meantime, Self wrote to the village, Layne is ready to begin work in Venetian Shores, which contains more than a tenth of the village's total sewer hookups. The company's daily overhead is $15,000, which he said the village should begin reimbursing if his workers don't have full access to Venetian Shores by Oct. 1.
In an interview last week, village Mayor Ken Philipson said he viewed Layne's letter as part of a negotiation.
"It's more of a suggested threat, I would say. There's a lot of holes in the letter and it's posturing," Philipson said.
He added that he believes the letter highlights growing friction between Layne and Wade Trim, the engineering consultant the village uses to watchdog Layne's work.
The Venetian Shores dispute isn't the only thing holding up Layne's progress, Self wrote. He also took on Wade Trim for having failed to acquire Florida Department of Transportation permits that are needed to activate the middle Plantation Key collection system. Layne will begin claiming financial damages of $15,000 per month for that portion of the project if the permits are not obtained by Oct. 1, Self wrote.
In addition, he noted the village has yet to acquire all of the properties upon which Layne is slated to build pump stations. The town has also failed to efficiently approve the building permits for four pump stations, including a re-pump station in north Plantation Key, that will move sewage up to Key Largo for treatment. At an Aug. 28 meeting, Self wrote, village staffers told Layne that the approvals could take another three to five months.
Finally, Self noted that Layne is having difficulty getting some property owners who live on private roads to sign easements that will allow workers to dig the sewer line. He blamed the difficulty on the Village Council, which has not authorized repaving of private roads as part of a contract change awarded to Layne over the summer. The $8.25 million contract does include $900,000 for private roads, but that portion of the contract will only go forward if the village gives specific go-ahead.
Village Wastewater Program Manager Greg Tindle did not take phone calls from The Citizen last week and did not respond to specific questions, sent via email, related to Layne's charges.
"Pursuant to the contract, the village is reviewing the claim. Any written response to the claim will be made available," Tindle wrote in a general statement about the matter. "However, please note that we believe the claim is inaccurate."
The village has yet to respond to Citizen records requests related to issues raised by Layne.