Project director says 'no silver bullets' to eliminate delay

Photo Credit: TIDINGS FILE PHOTO - Construction at the LOT water treatment plant has been delayed by nine months, sparking outrage among residents who live in the area near the plant. In the wake of a recent announcement that the Lake Oswego-Tigard Water Partnership (LOT) water treatment plant project in West Linn would be delayed by almost a full year, the West Linn City Council and residents alike pressed LOT officials for answers Monday night at City Hall.

LOT Project Director Joel Komarek stood in front of a packed audience for more than 30 minutes during Monday’s City Council meeting, answering pointed questions about how the project had fallen so far behind schedule.

“It’s well known now that our project is behind schedule at the plant,” Komarek said to the council. “We don’t like it, you don’t like it and I know your citizens don’t like it, but here we are. We’re doing what we can with our contractor to mitigate that delay.”

The Slayden Construction Group (SCG) announced in December that a project to expand and replace the LOT water treatment plant in West Linn would be delayed by approximately 11 months. Though the majority of the $250 million project — which is designed to upgrade and increase system capacity to deliver drinking water from the Clackamas River to Lake Oswego and Tigard — will be completed by summer of 2016, final completion of the water plant is not expected until early 2017, according to LOT.

Since that original announcement, Komarek said that mitigation efforts — including six day, 56 hour work weeks — have cut the delay down to nine months.

“There’s no silver bullet, no way to take a nine-month delay and shape it down to zero,” Komarek said. “But we’ll do what we can do as best as we can.”

That answer wasn’t good enough for the council, and attorney Chris Crean was asked to brief the city on possible legal measures to enforce the project’s original timeline.

“There’s nothing in the permits or development code that requires a specific construction schedule,” Crean said. “Absent of a specific construction schedule, there is nothing to enforce.”

Later during the community comment portion of the meeting, several residents expressed disappointment in the city’s oversight process, claiming that the precise construction schedule should have been included in the permits.

On another legal front, West Linn Mayor John Kovash asked Komarek if LOT would be seeking any compensation from Slayden for the delay.

“I’d prefer not to respond that that,” Komarek said.

City Councilor Jenni Tan followed up by asking if LOT would consider routing a portion of any potential compensation money back into the Robinwood neighborhood where construction is taking place.

“We’re already doing that as part of the conditions of approval (in the form of $10,000 to Robinwood Station),” Komarek said. “We will consider (additional funding).”

Several councilors suggested increased work hours, but Komarek said that option — or increasing the number of workers on site — was more difficult than it sounded.

“It’s a very cramped site,” he said. “I don’t know where you put more workers, I don’t know where you put more machinery. ... There is a diminishing return — at some point, the workers get tired and it starts being an unsafe work environment.”

Additionally, Komarek said LOT would need the city’s permission to push work hours later in the day, as those were part of the conditions of approval. The council said it would be amenable to increased work hours, and directed City Manager Chris Jordan to discuss that and other mitigation possibilities in a meeting later this week.

“The project has been difficult, and being prolonged for this period is really difficult,” Kovash said. “I’m saying this as someone who doesn’t live next door. ... We need to have (LOT’s) involvement, more than in the past.

I think the city manager can help in that process, and I will take the opportunity to talk to some of the other mayors.”

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