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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Memo Shows County Staff Favored Settling Morrison Bridge Dispute Over "Intractable" Negotiations

Posted by Dirk VanderHart on Tue, Oct 15, 2013 at 4:37 PM

Angered by months of delays, the construction company that installed problematic decking on the Morrison Bridge last year demanded nearly $2 million above its initial price when the project was completed.

According to documents obtained by the Mercury in a public records request, Conway Construction Company claimed Multnomah County was responsible for the lengthy hold-ups—officials had demanded the company improve its system for keeping pollutants out of the river—and should bear the costs for added work and stoppages.

Now, with a still-undisclosed settlement in this dispute freshly approved by the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners—and while a lawsuit over needed repairs slogs on—these internal communications offer an idea how much more we might be paying for the deeply flawed project.

Possibly upward of $1 million.

It turns out the county and Conway, struggling to find common ground, entered mediation as the Morrison project neared its March 2012 completion. They wanted a third-party opinion on who should bear added costs for the bridge rehabilitation. That opinion didn't favor the county—the mediator found Multnomah County should pay for roughly two-thirds of the construction company's demanded costs, according to an internal memo from September 2012 [pdf].

And though county workers disagreed with those findings, staffers recommended settling with Conway anyway—for between $750,000 and $1.2 million.

"Given Conway's intractable negotiation approach, and the complexity of the issues involved in Conway's claims," the memo said, it would be cheaper and easier to settle. "It is possible that an aggressive defense approach may convince Conway to adopt a more reasonable settlement posture," the document says, "but it is also possible that nothing short of litigation will resolve the dispute."

The memo is more than a year old, so the numbers may have changed. According to a statement from county spokesman Mike Pullen, "the settlement amount is substantially less than the contractor's claimed amount." It seems safe to say that number's somewhere south of $2 million.

Even so, a settlement in the range laid out in the memo represents a relatively large increase in the project's $4.2 million initial cost—potentially more than 25 percent over Conway's original bid.

And we've got to redo much of the work.

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