Tom Stanley

Southport Assistant Public Works Director Tom Stanley discusses a more than $414,000 change order for the Howe Street sewer replacement project during a March 24 called meeting of the Southport Board of Aldermen. (Photo by Gary Pethe)

The Southport Board of Aldermen approved a two-part change order for the in-progress Howe Street sewer construction project in a called meeting Wednesday, March 24.

The requested change entailed more than $72,000 for an onsite compaction inspector and $414,000 in additional asphalt paving charges.

Assistant Public Works Director Tom Stanley told board members the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) requires an inspector be on site at the work site at all times to assure backfill material is being placed and compacted correctly and asphalt compaction is being done per NCDOT specifications. Howe Street falls under NCDOT jurisdiction because it is a state highway (NC 211).

Contract cost for an inspector from the firm ECS Southeast LLP comes to $72,287, which will provide for 10 hours a day for the next 18 weeks that, “hopefully will be the duration of this project,” Stanley said.

“How is it that this is coming to us now, months after the project began,” asked board member Lowe Davis. “We’re spending money now to do something we should have been doing from day one. What happened?”

Stanley responded that when planning for the project began in 2019, the local NCDOT representative advised that the project would fall into the “repair and maintenance” category, so no other permits or encroachment requests were necessary. “We also found emails from a few years back that said the same thing,” he added, “So, we proceeded thinking we had all the information we needed.”

Stanley added there is no problem with backfill compaction - it is being done correctly. However, the city and its engineer were unaware of the state’s upgraded requirement for inspection. He stated that city staff were onsite most of the time, but that is not the proper reporting the state likes to hear; it requires a certified inspector be onsite at all times.

Responding to another question from Davis, Stanley said it is not known at this time if the state will require any of the work already done to be redone. “We are currently corresponding with NCDOT,” said Stanley. “We could be required to dig out and re-do the paving section from West Street to Nash Street, which is state roadway.”

Alderman John Allen said he felt the city should do all it can - and then some - to “push back” on NCDOT.

“To replace a minority portion of the existing road with something greater than required seems the height of absurdity to me,” Allen said. “I’d love to know what their justification is for that.”

Upgraded NCDOT specifications require the additional $414,000 requested for asphalt paving as part of the change order, since a larger quantity of asphalt material would be needed. Stanley also said that was why, as of the day of the meeting, the 100 block of North Howe Street from Moore to Nash streets had not been paved, even though the sewer work had been completed.

“The contractor was prepared to lay asphalt, but I stopped it,” said Stanley. “There was no need to pave another section of street if it was possibly going to be torn up.”

Mayor Joseph Hatem said that was the right decision to make. At press time, the paving of the North Howe Street from Moore to Nash streets has been completed and is open to traffic.

Work is now in progress on sewer line replacement from West Street to Brown Street. The entire sewer line replacement project is slated to be completed by the end of June.