NAPLES – The contract for the C-43 reservoir project has been terminated, but work continues on the construction project.
“The completion of the C-43 reservoir is one of the highest priorities of the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD). It’s key to the health of the downstream ecosystem which is also key to the communities and the way of life of Southwest Florida,” SFWMD Executive Director Drew Bartlett told the SFWMD governing board at their May 11 meeting.
“The district was forced to make the very difficult decision of terminating the C-43 Water Management Builders, a contractor responsible for constructing the C-43 reservoir.
“In 2019, when the governing board awarded the construction to C-43 Water Managers Builders Joint Venture (WMB), which is a joint venture with Lane Construction and WeBuild, with Lane being the contractor on the site,” he explained.
“The contractor’s representative assured the governing board that they could get the job done on time for the price bid. Unfortunately, despite numerous engagements with the district, including a year ago before the governing board, the contractor continuously fell farther and farther behind schedule.
“Implementing large water resource projects is something the water management district does extremely well. We have almost 30 of these large construction projects being constructed now, as we speak, and none of them, except C-43 Water Management Builders, is experiencing the magnitude of delays like Lane Construction.
“The contractor was falling behind schedule an average of an additional 20 days for every one month on the job. That’s losing 20 days in 30 days. District staff, Chairman (Chauncey) Goss and I engaged the contractor senior leadership numerous times to emphasize the importance of staying on schedule and still the contractor failed to make the necessary resource and management changes.
“What’s underpinning the delay? For a large above ground reservoir the embankment band is the thing that takes the longest to build. That is where timely delivery and execution is critical. At the time of termination, the contractor’s production rate of completing the embankment band would have delayed the construction of the project upwards of three years. That’s late 2026 or even 2027. It’s 2023 right now.
“For example, in order to avoid further delays, the contractor would have to lay approximately 250 linear feet of concrete on the inside of the embank band each day. They were averaging 95 feet per day.
“If they had stayed on schedule, that would have been a ribbon cutting next year,” he said.
“The contractor did not stay on schedule nor would they make the changes to get back on schedule or even prevent further delays,” he said.
“If you hear any notion that the district caused these delays, that is absurd. We don’t tolerate delays,” said Bartlett.
“District staff are laser-focused on completing construction of the C-43 reservoir,” Bartlett continued.
“While we wait for the surety – that’s the bond company that insured the project – to make its determination, the district is working with existing subcontractors to continue the necessary work.
“Within seven days after the termination, we already had 50 workers back on site continuing construction of the C-43 reservoir, with more being added every day.
“It is time to get back to achieving more now for the C-43 reservoir project,” he said. “The plodding is over.”
About the C-43 reservoir
Located on 10,700 acres of former farmland in Hendry County, west of LaBelle, the Caloosahatchee River West Basin Storage (C-43) Reservoir will hold approximately 170,000 acre-feet of water, with the maximum depth ranging from 15 feet to 25 feet across the expanse. When complete, the restoration project will provide storage needed for the estuary by capturing and storing local basin runoff as well as Lake Okeechobee regulatory releases. This will reduce lake discharges reaching the Caloosahatchee estuary, improve the health of the Caloosahatchee Estuary revitalizing fish and oyster habitats by reducing the frequency of undesirable salinity ranges.
The initial contract bid to WMB was for $523,871,000. SFWMD Governing Board approved an additional up to $25 million last year.
On May 3, 2023, C-43 Water Management Builders (WMB), a joint venture of The Lane Construction Corporation and Webuild, Sp.A. filed a lawsuit against the South Florida Water Management District, alleging the contract had been wrongfully terminated.
WMB alleges the district failed to grant extensions to the time and price of the project for delays and impacts caused by the district. WMB also also accuses SFWMD of “Furnishing WMB with plans and specifications that were substantially and materially deficient such that the design was constantly being revised during the work, thereby breaching the implied warranty of adequate design documents on a design/bid/build project.”
In addition, WMB alleges there was a problem with access to part of the project area. SFWMD contracted with Harry Pepper and Associates to build the S-470 Pump Station (bid package 3) and with WMB to build the C-43 West Basin Storage Reservoir (bid package 4). “The bid package 3 work area had specifically delineated project limits that overlapped and adjoined the bid package 4 project limits. WMB was not permitted to access the overlapping and adjoining areas unless and until the district authorized access,” the lawsuit alleges.
Project delays were discussed at the March 10, 2022 SFWMD Governing Board meeting. At that time, the project was 273 days behind schedule, according to information presented to the board.
Board members, who toured the project on March 9, 2022, expressed concerns about the project.
Governing Board Member Cheryl Meads opined the project might need a better project manager for the half billion dollar project. “When I flew over there – this is the dry season – it should have been an anthill of activity out there and it was nothing. And now you have the wet season coming,” she said.
“Back when this was awarded, $150 million between the low bigger and the second bidder is certainly a substantial difference," said SFWMD Governing Board Member Ron Bergeron. “Lane, the contractor, has a great reputation. They’re a very responsible contractor from what I have seen in the past.
“What I observed out there, as an engineering contractor for 57 years, is not enough resources to bring this project back on schedule,” he said.
One reason given for the project delay had to do with below ground root material that was discovered after the project started. Another is for a change the SFWMD initiated to change from seed and mulch to sod on the exterior slope of the embankment.
At that meeting, the board approved a resolution authorizing new change orders with the C-43 Management Builders for the contract for the C-43 Reservoir Project, in an amount not to exceed $25 million for which dedicated funds (Land Acquisition Trust Fund) and ad valorem funds were budgeted.