Jury Awards Millions to King County in Brightwater Tunnel Drilling Dispute

King County was awarded $155.8 million in damages by a jury Thursday in a dispute about tunneling work for the Brightwater sewage-treatment plant. The jury also granted counter-claims in the amount of approximately $25 million.

A King County Superior Court jury awarded King County $155.8 million in damages Thursday after finding a Brightwater tunneling contractor defaulted on key contractual obligations, according to a news release from King County.

The jury granted VPFK’s counter-claims in the amount of approximately $25 million.

“This verdict vindicates our position that Brightwater project delays and cost overruns were the responsibility of the contractor,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine, who made the decision to change contractors soon after taking office. “Should the damage award stand, it will mean lower sewer rates than projected in the future.”

King County filed a lawsuit in 2010 in King County Superior Court against joint-venture contractor Vinci Construction Grands Projets/Parsons RCI/Frontier-Kemper, or VPFK. Superior Court Judge Laura Gene Middaugh presided over the civil case.

The County claimed VPFK failed to meet contractually-specified deadlines after two tunnel boring machines broke down several hundred feet beneath Lake Forest Park and Bothell in 2009.

The machines required extensive repairs that threatened to delay the completion of Brightwater’s 13-mile conveyance tunnel by up to three years. Though VPFK repaired one machine and completed a 2.2-mile tunnel drive between Kenmore and Bothell in 2011, the County did not accept the lengthy delay and additional cost the contractor proposed for the repair of the second machine and the completion of the tunneling.

The County hired joint-venture contractor Jay Dee Coluccio, or JDC, to complete the remaining 1.9-mile tunnel between Shoreline and Lake Forest Park. JDC already had a machine underground after completing the adjacent 4-mile tunnel between Point Wells and Shoreline.  

“By hiring a new contractor, we completed Brightwater tunnel mining more quickly and at a lower cost than would have otherwise been possible,” said Executive Constantine.

To recover costs associated with project delays and design modifications, King County sought approximately $155 million from VPFK and its sureties. VPFK counterclaimed for approximately $70 million, saying its delays were excused by unexpected soil conditions and other circumstances that were the County’s responsibility. King County acknowledged some of the claims totaling about $4.7 million were valid. The jury granted VPFK’s counter-claims in the amount of approximately $25 million.

Should the damage award stand, it will help ensure stable rates in the future. The current two-year sewer rate expires at the end of 2014. Contractors are likely to appeal, according to a statement from Thierry Portafaix, project manager for VPFK.

VPFK was awarded the $212 million construction contract to build the two central Brightwater conveyance tunnels following a competitive bidding process in 2006. It was the second of four Brightwater construction contracts that built a 13-mile tunnel to carry wastewater from the treatment plant north of Woodinville to a deep-water marine outfall in Puget Sound off of Point Wells. 

, conveying the first flows of highly treated effluent from the Brightwater Treatment Plant north of Woodinville to a 600-foot-deep marine outfall in Puget Sound a mile off of Point Wells.

The 114-acre site is located at the intersection of State Route 9 and SR 522, just north of Woodinville in Snohomish County. The state-of-the-art $1.8 billion project had its share of construction problems, mostly with the deep-bore drilling of the 13-mile tunnel carrying wastewater to Brightwater, and treated water to the Puget Sound. 

Source: King County

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