Lagoon liner replacement cost surges to $1M


Ken Bowman


By Reggie Ponder
Staff Writer

Thursday, December 13, 2018

CAMDEN — The cost of replacing the liner at a wastewater lagoon that serves Camden County’s Commerce Park near South Mills has surged to more than four times the original estimate.

The Camden Board of Commissioners on Wednesday approved using $604,760 from the county’s fund balance to cover additional costs of the lagoon liner project.

Just last week County Manager Ken Bowman told a joint meeting of county commissioners and Camden school board members that he was concerned because the cost of the project had climbed to $489,000 from an original estimate of about $250,000. Bowman noted that the increased cost of the project “ate up” the revenue generated by the 3-cent increase in the county property tax rate this year. Commissioners raised the tax rate for the 2018-19 county budget from 72 cents per $100 valuation to 75 cents.

But a week later Bowman found himself reporting to commissioners that the cost of replacing the wastewater lagoon liner had more than doubled. The total cost now is more than $1.09 million, he said.

“This has happened in a very short amount of time,” Bowman told commissioners Wednesday.

The lagoon liner is required in order to comply with environmental regulations associated with the county’s permit to operate the lagoon.

“This disturbs me an awful lot,” Commissioner Randy Kraniak said of the $600,000 cost increase.

The county approved a $400,000 contract for liner replacement in August. The lagoon, which holds treated wastewater, is located at the end of McPherson Road off U.S. Highway 17.

The project initially was expected not only to cost less than half of what it now costs but also to be completed in three our four months from an October start date. It now is clear the project could take an additional three or four months to complete, if not longer.

The plan called for using large water-filled tubes known as “aqua dam coffers” to hold back the water in portions of the lagoon while the liner replacement was performed.

“By using this coffer technique the lagoon will be able to stay in use and no extensive lagoon dewatering effort will be required,” Bowman said in an email to The Daily Advance at the time the contract was approved.

But as Sean Robey of general contractor Eastern Carolina Construction explained to commissioners Wednesday, the work has not gone as planned. He said that partly is because of problems with the way the lagoon was originally built and partly due to unusually wet weather. Among other things, clay and muck have had to be excavated from the site and replaced with sand in order to build a surface that will keep the aqua dams in place.

Board of Commissioners Chairman Tom White asked Robey if he expects to run into any more cost overruns.

Robey said he doesn’t expect to, but couldn’t say that with certainty.

The contract is a “time and materials” contract, Robey noted during the discussion with commissioners. Robey said the company itself has absorbed some of the cost overrun.

“We appreciate you helping us where you could,” White said.

Commissioner Clayton Riggs said county staff and the engineers on the project need to do careful cost analyses of different options to avoid tripling the project’s cost. One consideration is whether continuing to work on the project during the coldest and wettest time of the year is cost-effective.

Riggs said he didn’t want the public to keep seeing a big cost increase in the project each time commissioners meet.

“Me either, because I don’t want to be stoned walking down the street,” Robey said.

Robey said he believes the current side of the lagoon can be completed in just a few more days, adding he believes it’s best to go ahead and finish that part of the project. After that, he said, the county could put the project back out for bid if it wishes to.

County officials, despite their concern about the rapidly escalating cost, showed no appetite for changing horses at this point — especially since much of the cost appears to stem from defects in the original design and construction of the lagoon.

As Commissioner Ross Munro began to ask about the original construction, Riggs said the builder of the lagoon had done such a bad job that it had been sued and had gone out of business.

Robey said the original design should have called for a double lagoon, because that way one lagoon could be completely de-watered while the other was being worked on.

A motion by Munro to complete the current section of the lagoon and then get more information before deciding how to proceed with the rest of the project, and to appropriate $604,760 from the general fund balance to cover project costs, passed unanimously.