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Solar field setbacks frustrate officials

Published April 18. 2012 05:01PM

Summit Hill Water Authority officials remain frustrated with Miller Brothers, the contractor overseeing the construction of the solar field project on the Authority's property in White Bear. The project was originally scheduled to be completed at the end of August and is now more than seven months overdue and several items including blacktopping, planting grass and other assorted tasks still need to be finished. The repeated delays and lack of follow-through by the contractor has also increased the oversight costs to make sure the project's specifications are being followed. The delays by Miller Brothers has not only delayed their payment but is costing them punitive damages according to the contract.

"There was a crew there today, but no Chris DePaul or Joe Marone," said Engineer Mike Tirpak referring to the foreman and project manager who are responsible for the project. "I sent Chris the list of items that need to be done and when the crew arrived this morning, they not only didn't have the list but they were not aware of what needed to be done."

Tirpak said this has been typical of the entire life of the project. In this case, he had to provide the crew with the list and then he e-mailed DePaul and told him the crew was supposed to be told what needed to be done. In this case, the wheel ruts in the road need to be fixed, blacktopping needed to be done and at some point the grass on the site needs to be planted. He told officials his concern was that if grass was planted in the dry conditions right now the seeds could just blow away so it might be wise to wait a few days.

In addition, he reported that when he returned to the site to check on what the crew had completed in the afternoon, a Miller Brothers truck was there but when he tried to find out what they were working on, the driver ignored him and left the site. He said from what he was able to determine the person in that vehicle replaced some caps, cut rails and painted the calking at the site, but he was not able to tell if the key box was installed since he didn't have a key to check the inverter and the work crew was not on site at the time.

Also, Tirpak reported that he is still unable to get the warranty cards for the electrical panels from Cooper Electric or Miller Brothers. The panels which were produced by an established company in China should have warranties somewhere, but neither company has produced them yet as per the specifications in the contract.

Chairperson Louis Alexander said the board owes a payment to the contractor but it will not be made until they fulfill their work requirements. "At this point,

I think the work they need to do is worth more than the payment we are holding." Alexander commended Tirpak for the work he has done to oversee the project and recognized that it was taking much more time than it should. "I see your log shows you have spent 113 hours overseeing this project to make sure they correct their mistakes which is well over what it should have taken."

Tirpak said these projects required communication, honesty and trust between the contractor. According to the officials, Marone has been quite difficult to work with and has failed to appear at several inspection meetings, does not follow through on the work he is directed to do according to the project specifications and has spent time trying to put the blame back on Carbon Engineering, but Alexander told Tirpak he knew what was really going on with the situation.

Tirpak said, "Sometimes you get a great contractor and sometimes you don't. This is one of the issues when you are required to hire the lowest bidder."

He told Alexander and the board that Marone was supposed to meet on April 23rd or 24th for another inspection meeting and he would inform them as to the specific time. Alexander said he hoped that Marone would make this meeting.

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