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Toledo, Ohio & Lake Erie

The Press Newspaper

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Oak Harbor’s quest for a reliable source of electric power to the south side of the Portage River has run into problems.

Village council has grudgingly approved an $115,000 change order requested by general contractor U.S. Utility of Perrysburg for the drilling of an 18-inch electrical service line beneath the Portage River Bridge at the village’s southern limits.

Council originally approved about $135,000 for the boring of the line that’ll house two electrical conduits 14 feet beneath the river’s bed. The project is necessary because the electrical line installed in the body of the bridge in the early 1990s is having connection problems, Mayor Bill Eberle said.

The contractor, assisted by subcontractor S & S Boring, began working on the project last fall. Complications set in earlier this year near the first bridge mooring, interim village administrator Randy Genzman explained. The boring machine ran into a mound of bedrock and the drill head broke. It remains buried in the rock and all work within the actual river has stopped.

As a result, the contractor came back to the village with a $129,000 change order, outlining the necessary work and new machinery needed to remedy the situation. The village administration, along with its engineering consultant, Pearce Engineering, negotiated the change order request down to $115,000, the proposal that Genzman brought to council for a vote. “That brings us to about $250,000 total,” he said.

Genzman suggested the village had few options. “We’re in this pretty deep already,” he said.

The village could also face possible litigation, further hindering its attempt to get a second, reliable power source in place.

“Right now the customers on that side of the river are receiving electricity from First Energy. They are billing us more than we are charging. So to drag this out much longer will cost us,” Genzman added.

Eighteen homes, one commercial business and a light industrial facility are affected by the problem.

Seven months from now the village will owe First Energy nearly $8,000 beyond what is collected from those residents, according to the estimates provided by Jim Smith, public power supervisor.

Based on a map distributed to council members, councilman Jon Fickert pointed out it seemed the contractor deviated from the intended route.

“The machine they had is not meant to go through rock,” the interim administrator said.

“That’s their problem, not ours,” councilwoman Sue Rahm said.

“That’s one way to look at it,” Genzman said.

Rahm said she didn’t understand the basis for a possible legal battle. “We hired them to do a job. Now they say they can’t do it unless we pay them more. Somehow that doesn’t sound right,” she told her peers.

Both Genzman and Eberle explained that crews were following plans and diagrams provided by the state from a bridge reconstruction project. Those plans, however, were not entirely accurate and the machines ran into unexpected bedrock.

“We’re eating the cost of their original problem,” Fickert claimed.

“No, it was our original problem because we didn’t know about the glacial hump,” the mayor said.

Others asked if the engineering firm had done its own borings prior to the project.

Eberle said the firm didn’t, adding the firm also used boring sample data collected from the state.

Fickert said council should remember this disaster the next time Pearce Engineering is considered for project work.

“Once bitten, twice shy,’ Fickert said.

Others agreed, saying they believed the firm took advantage and just used boring data provided by the state rather than doing its own footwork.

Council members then asked Genzman whether they could have more time to consider the request.

Not really, Genzman said. Crews are ready to move forward now.

Should council put off the decision, the boring crews would likely be switched to another job elsewhere. And that, he said, could delay the work one to two months conservatively. Council voted 5-0 to OK the change order and proceed. Councilman Jim Seaman was absent for the vote.

The village had considered several other options besides the under river drilling, according to Eberle.

The state would not allow the village to feed a line under the bridge. State officials, instead, suggested ripping up the sidewalk, installing the lines and replacing the sidewalk. The venture would prove extremely costly because of the sidewalk’s connection to the bridge’s exterior walls.

The state also turned down a village proposal to use two overhead, 90-foot poles, spanning 700 feet. “ODNR complained because that (area) is considered a wetland,” the mayor said. Still, “That would have been the cheapest route.”

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