Unalaska Tallies Cost of Blasting Issues at Wastewater Plant, Landfill

It’s been a year since Unalaska started uncovering big problems with a major construction project in town. Work is moving forward on the city’s new wastewater treatment plant. But, staff are still trying to put a price on the damage done.

Workers at the wastewater treatment plant site are busy pouring concrete for the building’s water tanks and foundations. City Manager Chris Hladick says they’ll be able to start building the actual structure of the plant in the next month.

unalaska-blasting“You know, they had planned on being further along than they are, but I don’t think it’s going to impact the total schedule,” Hladick said.

The plant has to be online by the end of 2015, as mandated by a settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency.

Meanwhile, Hladick says they’re working on another issue — one that was never supposed to be part of the project.

They’re trying to add up the cost of issues with blasting work done at the site last year.

Advanced Blasting was originally hired to carve out a hole for the wastewater treatment plant’s foundations, but the city says they blasted too deep and too wide, and left behind explosive materials, including sticks of dynamite.

Advanced Blasting owner Julia Saunders has said the company won’t comment on the allegations.

But contractors on the project say it’s cost them at least $1.6 million — and counting — to deal with the blasting issues.

In some cases, the city’s agreed to pay what the companies are asking. They granted a $340,000 change order to Alaska Mechanical, the lead contractor, to fill in the over-blasted area.

But Northern Mechanical, the subcontractor at the plant, is asking for a lot more — $1.3 million, to be exact. Hladick says the company did face a lot of extra work. They had to deal with the over-blasting and the abandoned explosives at the site.

“It was completed last July and August, I believe, the work — they’d find a blasting material and they’d stop work and deal with it, and there were a lot of starts and stops,” Hladick said.

Northern Mechanical hasn’t been paid for that extra work yet, because the city wants more details on why it cost so much.

“We’re saying, ‘Wow, that’s a lot of money. Okay, show us your back-up. Show us your timecards, show us how many trucks you used…’ all that kind of stuff,” Hladick said. “And that’s well within our rights to do that.”

Either way, it’s not just financial cost from blasting issues that’s adding up at the wastewater site. It’s costing time, too. Hladick says Alaska Mechanical wants to add extra days on the end of the contract to make up for delays.

He says that shouldn’t be a problem — the city built a buffer into their construction schedule so they could meet the EPA’s deadline even if they ran into problems.

But all those problems have had a ripple effect, and it’s spread to another municipal project: the landfill expansion. Dynamite wrappers turned up in piles of rock there last month, bringing work to a halt.

The contaminated rock had come from the wastewater treatment plant, and Northern Alaska, the contractor that was supposed to use it to expand the landfill, needed to clean it up. Hladick says they asked for $2.3 million extra to do it.

“That was just to go through 40,000 yards of rock, and they were going to go through it with a fine-tooth comb and make sure there wasn’t anything in it,” Hladick said. “They had, like, $4,000 a day for a powderman to be on site, and they estimated 60 days to go through the pile.”

The city thought the change order was too expensive, so they canceled the contract altogether. The project is set to go back out to bid this week. Whoever picks it up will also have to deal with the contaminated rocks.

That’ll all make up the final price of the blasting issues at the wastewater plant. Once the city approves the contractors’ requests and tallies the total cost, Hladick says they’ll bring it to Advanced Blasting and start looking at getting paid back.

“Yeah, we’re going to sit down with them and talk about it, that’s for sure,” Hladick said.

That conversation won’t involve lawyers — at least not at first. But with projects worth more than $23 million total and several companies’ reputations at stake, Hladick it’s a definite possibility down the road.

Previous articleTongass Fire Warning Rescinded
Next articleManagers May Close Kuskokwim to King Salmon Fishing Earlier than Planned
Annie Ropeik is a reporter for KUCB in Unalaska.