Court case could stall drainage project

Published 12:17 am Friday, July 13, 2012

NATCHEZ — The city is in the final stages of plans for the next phase of the North Natchez Drainage Project, but first it is trying to wash its hands of some dirty business.

A potential court case between the city’s contractor for Phase 2A of the project, Dirt Works of Vicksburg, and a vendor the company has yet to pay, Design Precast and Pipe of Gulfport, is holding the city from closing out the project, City Engineer David Gardner said.

Gardner reported the issue to the aldermen at Tuesday’s meeting and said the city is trying to finalize the paperwork to close out the project, but the dispute is holding things up.

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The question, Gardner said, would be if the city can get released from the contract with one unpaid vendor and indicate that the matter is more than likely going to court.

“What I don’t want to happen is our project get held up by third-party litigation,” he said.

City Attorney Hyde Carby said it would probably be wise not to close out the project until the city knows for sure if Dirt Works and Precast Design will have to settle their dispute in court.

The city also had a disagreement previously with Dirt Works, and two other vendors in town went unpaid until recently, Gardner said.

Dirt Works disagreed with the city’s final payment for the project. Gardner said the company thought it should have been paid more based on engineering measurements.

Ultimately the city settled the matter without having to go to court, and the project’s engineering firm, Hartman Engineering of New Orleans, paid the $15,000 difference in the dispute.

Money is not the only problem the city has had with Dirt Works.

Gardner shut down the project in 2010 because Dirt Works was illegally storing materials on the front lawn of a Wall Street house.

But even that was not the first time the city had to talk to the company about illegally storing materials at the house. Gardner has said he has written letters to the company twice before shutting down the project.

Dirt Works’ bid of $2.5 million came in less than $1 million less than the other contract bidders, Gardner said.

That is ultimately why, he said, the city awarded the contract to the company in 2010.

The total payment for the contract, including a few change orders, ended up being approximately $2.9 million, Gardner said.

“I jokingly told the aldermen that they may have saved $1 million, but they bought me $2 million in headaches,” Gardner said. “That’s about right; it’s been an extremely difficult project to administer.”

Ward 1 Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis said at Tuesday’s meeting that Dirt Works’ name fits the company.

“They have been a dirty company to work with,” she said.