City files suit over engineering failure
The City of Aiken has filed a civil lawsuit against the engineering group that initially designed the Pawnee-Neilson Connector, which experienced a failure that cost more than $500,000 to fix.According to federal court documents, the city filed the lawsuit against the Cranston Engineering Group based in Augusta on April 26 in efforts to handle cost overruns of the connector project, which derived from a remedial project to repair the road's detention pond walls that faltered.The amount that the city is looking to gain from the lawsuit is undetermined and will be ruled by the court's verdict in the case, according to Rob Braithwaite, who is representing the city.Cranston Engineering initially designed the connector. According to court documents, the contract that the city entered with Cranston in 2005 provided that engineering group receive $76,705 for all of the construction plans as well as $2,380 and $9,520 for shop drawing review and the construction phase services.The plaintiff complaint states that the group breached its contract by failing to provide a design of the connector and detention pond slopes "that adhered to generally accepted engineering standards and principles and that were within the generally accepted factors of safety."The document further states that the slopes were "excessively steep, unstable and/or unsafe to motorists traveling upon the connector."Braithwaite said the city did attempt to come to an agreement with Cranston before taking it to court."We tried to resolve the issue but were unable to," he said, later adding, "Unless the matter is resolved by the way of a settlement, it will be at least a year before it goes to trial."Cranston Vice President Jim Cranford released a statement Tuesday regarding the lawsuit."We were notified last week that the City of Aiken has, in fact, filed a lawsuit against our firm," Cranston said. "We categorically deny all of the charges listed in the complaint and deeply regret that the city has chosen to proceed in this manner. We expect to be vindicated of all charges once all of the actual facts in the case are presented."Construction of the connector began in late 2008 and, by August 2009, officials noticed a shift in the walls of the detention pond that the connecting road surrounded and found it unsafe on which to travel. Construction was halted, and the final layer of asphalt wasn't put down, according to city officials.The city then contracted Schnabel Engineering Consultants to evaluate the connector, which concluded the inclination of the detention pond walls needed to be reduced, according to court documents.Woolpert Inc. was hired for a redesign, construction began again in the spring of 2011 and the road was open by November.The road, which links Neilson Street to Pawnee Drive, was constructed to alleviate congestion on Whiskey Road.The city spent $2,381,078 for the initial project - more than $700,000 coming from round one Capital Project Sales Tax, $1,050,000 coming from round two of Capital Project Sales Tax, $167,586 came from roadway funds, $167,586 came from roadway funds and the remainder of that money spent from the storm water account.The money for the remedial project came from the 2009-10 budget surplus funds.Amy Banton is the city beat reporter and has been with the Aiken Standard since May 2010. She is a native of Rustburg, Va., and a graduate of Randolph Macon Woman's College.Amy Banton is the city beat reporter and has been with the Aiken Standard since May 2010. She is a native of Rustburg, Va., and a graduate of Randolph Macon Woman's College.