Lake Fairlee Dam Project on Hold

Published: 8/4/2016 4:06:41 PM
Modified: 7/25/2015 12:00:00 AM
Thetford — The long-planned project to replace the ailing Lake Fairlee Dam this summer abruptly halted this week after the contractor and the three towns involved — Thetford, Fairlee and West Fairlee — parted ways over a dispute about the unsigned construction contract.

Speaking for the towns, Fairlee Selectboard Chairman Frank J. Barrett Jr. said the $850,000 project, which voters in the three towns approved through bond votes in May, would go back out to bid next year.

This winter, the towns plan to sandbag the dam, which is located in Thetford and controls Lake Fairlee’s shoreline, he said.

He said there is no expiration on the bond money nor the interlocal agreement among the towns to share in the dam’s ownership.

In interviews on Friday, the towns and the contractor, Kingsbury Companies LLC of Waitsfield, Vt., both expressed disappointment over the collapse of the partnership, with each side saying it was the one to walk away.

The disagreement “strictly had to do with language in a construction contract,” Barrett said, “and what was included and what wasn’t included ... and our interest was in protecting the three towns.”

Barrett said the town had made a “herculean effort” to sort out “contractual differences” as the two sides worked toward signing a final contract, but declined to address specific 
approaches.

“We believe it’s important to part in good company,” he said.

The full Fairlee Selectboard hosted about three board members apiece from Thetford and West Fairlee in a special meeting Thursday night, Barrett said, when those present unanimously voted against a contract with Kingsbury and to postpone the project.

He said the meeting was warned with 24 hours’ notice in Fairlee.

Meanwhile, Travis Kingsbury, president of Kingsbury Companies, asserted that the towns were delayed in finishing a “pre-construction” to-do list — such as acquiring the necessary easements and, importantly, getting the deed of the privately owned dam signed over to the towns — which he said continuously pushed back the start date past Kingsbury’s preferred date of June 20, which he said changed the project and increased its costs.

Kingsbury was the lowest of two bidders in April, placing a bid for $643,000, about half of the only other bidder, South Burlington-based PC Construction. (Among the other costs included in the $850,000 price tag are legal fees, engineering work and a 
contingency.)

Kingsbury said the company continued preparing for the project and making expenditures without a contract and “in good faith,” but ultimately sought an additional $25,000 in fees related to the alleged delays, such as having a site superintendent and equipment at the site for weeks without the green light to start working.

Kingsbury said he also was asking for additional potential allowances of about $24,000, which would only be needed if the towns’ alleged delays extended the construction period into the colder seasons, which can cause complications with concrete and other materials.

“They gave us an ultimatum,” Kingsbury said. “They said you either sign the contract the way it is, even though we delayed you a month, even though we cost you a bunch of money ... so we on (Thursday) politely said, ‘We decline your counteroffer and best of luck to you.’ ”

The towns have long said that for the project to work, the towns would need to take ownership of the dam through an “interlocal agreement.” Kingsbury said his company was not made aware that ownership would be transferred to the towns until June 24, and he had believed that the former owners, the Malmquist Estate overseen by Maine resident Bryan Gregory and his sister, would retain ownership.

Barrett said the deed was transferred last week.

In interviews with the Valley News since April, Gregory has sometimes expressed ambivalence toward the project and questioned whether he would sign over the dam deed to the towns, but ultimately lent his support. His family will retain ownership of a camp house on top of the dam that will be removed during construction and replaced afterward, which Gregory, who recently retired, plans to move to.

On Friday, Gregory called the news that the project had fallen through this year “traumatic,” expressing dismay at the prospect of waiting another year when he had gotten into the mindset of getting it done.

He said he had expected construction to start shortly after July 4.

“I’m just kind of (upset) because it’s been two years that I’ve been trying to prep the camp for the project,” Gregory said, referring to taking down the chimney and postponing new work on the house. “My God, it’s like another year goes 
by.”

Kingsbury said he plans to recoup his expenditures toward the project from the three towns, but did not have an exact figure on Friday. He said the cancellation of the project means that some of his employees will be out of work for some time this summer.

Barrett declined to address Kingsbury’s assertions directly but said that the issue “wasn’t just money.” He said the towns “understand that there will probably be some costs associated with not moving ahead with Kingsbury.”

Although the latest development is disappointing, Barrett said the towns are in good shape to start the bidding over next year, since the elements that were in flux during the first round — such as the deed and the bond vote — are now settled. He said he’s confident the towns will get more bidders next time around because of that.

“We’re in good shape and we’d love to see this project go this year, but on the other hand, if we can’t get into a good contract that we feel is proper for the towns, then we’re willing to wait a year — with great disappointment,” he said.

Maggie Cassidy can be reached at mcassidy@vnews.com or 603-727-3220.




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