Portsmouth levee certification process being held up, city manager says


Portsmouth City Manager Derek K. Allen says Howerton Engineering is holding up the levee certification process.

A couple of months ago, the city filed all its paperwork with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) only to have the EPA come back and request additional information. In fact, they are asking for 10 items of additional information.

Allen said the EPA is not questioning any of the information provided, they are asking for an explanation as to how the companies involved in the certification process, Howerton and AMEC arrived at their figures.

“FEMA is just asking for documentation as to how they came up with the calculations,” Allen said.

The request for the additional information came in this form, “The submitted report for this section was prepared by Thelen. Fifty-seven soil boring were taken within the 3 reaches. The soil boring locations, boring logs, and laboratory results were provided. Six cross-sections were analyzed for slope stability.

“ACTION: While it was noted in the narrative that the calculations for levee slope stability meet minimum factor of safety recommendations and the results are labeled on supporting illustrations, it would facilitate the review if a table was provided summarizing of Factors of Safety (FOS) for stability with respect to minimum recommended values was provided, similar to that provided for seepage in Table 1.”

“Howerton did respond in an email about one of the seven items and his sub (contractor) is going to charge him $5,000,” Allen said.

Last year, City Council approved an additional $126,000 for Howerton.

The minutes from the Dec. 8, 2014 City Council meeting notes, “Councilman Kevin E. Johnson asked the city manager his thoughts regarding the subject. Manager Allen replied that he was leaning towards going away from Howerton and paying $200,000 to AMEC to certify the whole levee. AMEC expressed some reluctance having the cityu move Howerton out and taking over, also it would be more money and any time you spend more money, it’s hard to justify. His fear is that with Howerton there may be another change order somewhere down the line and from a negotiating standpoint they have us. The Choices are basically pay $200,000 to AMEC and you know at the end the report will agree. The other choice is at the end AMEC and Howerton have to agree. He just hoped that Howerton doesn’t come back and ask for more money because he wants to see this completed.”

“Are we going to pay?” Third Ward Councilman Kevin E. Johnson asked.

“I’m not going to pay,” Allen responded. “They owe it to us. It was part of a conversation we had in December of 2014 when we paid Howerton another $126,000 and we paid AMEC $10,000 and this was to finish it to get the approval, nothing more. We were very clear about that.”

“I recall discussing that here with Council and it was approved to spend the extra money and we made sure it was clear to them,” Portsmouth City Solicitor John Haas said. “When we paid you to get this done that’s what the payment was for to get it done. Now they come back asking for more. I’m much in the same mind at the city manager and that is that we’re not paying anymore. They need to do what they were paid to do.”

The process has taken much longer than originally expected, but several things occurred over the time the city was involved in the process. Wastewater Director Rick Duncan was fired by then-Mayor Jane Murray, leaving that department having to cover for Duncan’s loss. Duncan came back after an administration change, but then went through a long period of health issues and dealing with unexpected related projects including a sink hole.

By Frank Lewis

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Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.

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