May 25, 2022

Essex Hopes to Salvage Troubled Main Street Boat Launch Project

Construction work in progress at Essex boat launch

ESSEX–  First Selectman Phil Miller is hoping to salvage a troubled Main Street boat launch project that began earlier this month, three months behind schedule.

Miller met Thursday with frustrated members of the harbor management commission and the economic development commission to review a series of problems with the project that is funded by a state Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP) grant. The board of selectmen in August awarded a contract for the reconstruction of the boat launch at the foot of Main Street to Old Colony Construction of Clinton. The company, with a price of $103,000, submitted the lowest of six bids received for the project.

Construction workers brave the cold to construct the cofferdam

The work, which requires permits from the state Department of Environmental Protection, was scheduled to begin in mid-September, when tides on the Connecticut River are lowest, and be completed within a month. But in mid-September, company owner Vincent Neri told town officials he had not secured all of the supplies, including galvanized steel and concrete, needed for the project.

Delays continued in October, with disagreements over whether union prevailing wages are required for the project, and whether a cofferdam is needed to hold river water back from the area of construction.

According to Lee Thompson, chairman of the economic development commission, Old Colony Construction initially claimed an exemption from the prevailing wage rule. Town officials maintained payment of prevailing wages to project workers was required because the project is funded by a $191,000 state grant. Neri, who had initially bid the project without a cofferdam, also submitted a change order that contended a steel cofferdam was needed at an additional cost of about $39,000.

Heavy lifting equipment being used for boat launch repairs

The disagreements delayed the start of construction until earlier this month. While agreeing to pay prevailing wages, Neri also requested various exclusions that would halt work during rain and severely cold weather, with no night work. When planning the project in September, town officials had anticipated work to continue at night under lights to allow for completion of the project when river tides were most favorable.

Thompson and other members of the two commissions that have pushed for the new boat launch for several years, questioned whether the late starting project can be completed by a January 12 deadline established by the DEP to protect migrating eagles and fish. Members questioned whether the project could be completed if the current cold weather continues and begins to freeze over the river. Some advocated dismissing Old Colony Construction, and calling a performance bond that was required under the contract.

Miller said lawyers for the town had cautioned that calling the bond would likely bring court litigation that would further delay the project, and possibly jeopardize the state grant. “We’ve been disappointed, there is no doubt about that,” Miller said, adding “we’re on our third good faith effort and we have to give them some time to get this done.”

Miller said the town would not approve any additional change orders, and would call the bond and “go down a different road,” if the project is not finished by the mid-January DEP deadline.

Board of finance chairman James Francis, who attended the meeting , said Old Colony Construction should have been dismissed from the job when it was unable to start work in September. “I see no win in this end game,” he said, adding “this thing is going to fail and we’re going to be in court.”

Miller, noting the project cost remains under the grant amount even with the additional expense for the cofferdam said he remains hopeful the project would be completed by mid-January.