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Officials Bicker As Contract For Solomon Flood Wall Terminated

July 18, 2018

WILKES-BARRE — City officials are canceling a contract with the low bidder for the Solomon Creek flood wall project, while the contractor is calling them unqualified and accused them of wasting money.

City Attorney Tim Henry confirmed Tuesday that the city informed Tony Popple on Friday that the city was terminating city-based A.R. Popple’s $1.5 million contract to install new sections of flood wall along Brooke Street.

“We felt that it was in the best interest of the city and of the residents in the area,” city Administrator Ted Wampole said.

Popple said the emailed notice Henry forwarded to him from Joyce Morrash Zaykowski, city director of Community and Economic Development, came as a “total shock” and provided no explanation other than citing a provision that allows the city to terminate the contract “without providing a reason or cause.”

He said the city is still required to pay him for the $211,000 in costs he incurred to date.

Delay expected

Popple said the fact that officials are about three weeks delinquent on paying him leads him to believe the city is experiencing “funding issues. For whatever reason, it seems they couldn’t access the money.”

Wampole said funds are available, “but we don’t believe the bill should be paid at this point.”

Wampole also said Popple is “well aware of what led up to cancelling the contract,” although he declined to provide the reason or reasons to a reporter because of “potential pending litigation.”

Popple was to replace a 40-foot section of the wall that collapsed in December 2016, as well as some smaller sections. The wall was built in the 1930s and protects about 700 homes in South Wilkes-Barre from flooding.

Wampole said the project would be offered to the next-lowest qualified bidder, whom Popple identified as Berwick-based Don E. Bower Inc., at approximately $2 million.

While Wampole said he “would not anticipate a long delay” in the project because of a change in contractors.

Popple said the decision is bad “not only for the city, but for every state and federal taxpayer (because) they now wasted $700,000” and “put the whole project back at least a month.”

Ready to proceed

Popple said the city awarded him the contract on May 22, and he was prepared to break ground by Aug. 1, begin installing a prefabricated flood wall by Sept. 1 and have the project complete by the city’s Nov. 21 deadline.

He said the project start was delayed by about a week because the city’s engineer did not provide a geotechnical report needed by the wall manufacturer. Ironically, he said, an engineering study was completed the day he received the termination notice.

“We needed three or four weeks to get ready for the delivery of the wall,” Popple said, noting that at the city’s request, he held off excavation to minimize the time Brooke Street would be closed to neighborhood residents.

“The people making the decision to terminate the contract didn’t understand the process,” Popple said. Cancelling the contract “shows they just don’t have a clue as to what they’re doing down there.”

Popple said Kurt Sauer, whose position Zaykowski filled upon his retirement in February, “had an intimate knowledge of the funding and the actual construction. He knew the process. This Joyce Zaykowski, she doesn’t have a clue.”

As an example, Popple said, he submitted a change order for a smaller project he recently completed for this city — demolishing the former Academy Street Market.

Zaykowski “said to me, ‘I don’t know how to do a change order. I’m going to have to call Kurt Sauer, and hopefully he can guide me,’” Popple said. “I guess they’re hiring based on politics and not qualifications.”

Change orders

Reached while away on vacation Tuesday, Zaykowski said she “is not the one in over my head, and I am very knowledgeable about Mr. Popple’s practice regarding change orders.” She said she would be happy to show a reporter a folder she has on Popple when she returns from vacation.

Zaykowski said Popple bid $19,000 to demolish the market, and the next lowest bid was about $36,000.

Prior to the start of demolition, Popple said, he discovered that the market was filled with trash, necessitating that he charge an additional $15,000 through a change order to cover the cost of removing about a dozen dumpsters full.

Zaykowski said Popple told her he visited the site prior to placing the bid but did not inform her he would need to adjust the cost for trash removal.

“If he went and looked at the site, it would not have been unforeseen. He should have stopped and addressed the fact that he underbid the project before continuing to do the work. Basically, he bid low and figured he would make it up with the change order. That’s not how I do business — it is an unethical practice,” she said, adding that the change order was not the only issue with the market.

Popple contends that someone packed all of the trash into the building between the time he placed his bid and the time demolition began. He said city officials were made aware of the trash problem before he began removing it, but he did not indicate that Zaykowski was specifically informed.

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570-821-2110, @mocarskyCV