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Liability admitted in airport debacle
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Attempts to recover $1 million lost in the Midcoast Regional Airport asphalt debacle have progressed only slightly, yet Liberty County officials remain hopeful.
This past year, the county commission awarded a multi-million dollar contract to Douglas Asphalt to pave the runway, taxiways and general aviation area of the airport, County Administrator Joey Brown said.
But Douglas was removed from the project when inspectors discovered twigs, hay and other foreign objects in the badly contaminated asphalt, Liberty County Development Authority CEO Ron Tolley said.
The company was replaced by Ellis Wood Construction to tear up and repave the taxiway, and to pave the runway and general aviation area for $3.1 million, Ellis Wood said.
Originally, the FAA and Georgia Department of Transportation assumed 95 percent of the asphalt costs. But when Douglas defaulted, the money for the Ellis Wood contract was to come from the county, the LCDA and the city of Hinesville (each paying for one-third of the airport construction and start-up costs), Brown said.
Since then, county officials have been attempting to settle with Douglas’ surety, Arch Insurance, to recoup the $3.1 million for the Wood contract, but the county has only been able to retrieve $2.3 million, Brown said.
“As a result of our negotiations to date, Arch Insurance has admitted liability on behalf of Douglas Asphalt Company for the asphalt pavement defects, and has paid Liberty County a portion of the asphalt pavement repair costs incurred,” he said.
County attorney Kelly Davis and Brown are working to recover the remaining $800,000, and if they do not reach a complete agreement, the county will consider taking legal action to recover the rest of the money, Brown said.
In regards to the asphalt contamination though, the Douglas Asphalt plant should have been able to screen out the organic matter in the asphalt, but sometimes the screens develop holes through wear and tear and the contaminants can slip through, KSA Engineers representative Ed Mayle said.
The plant should have caught the error though, and with the high level of contamination, the inspectors should have caught it too, he said.
Besides the asphalt inspectors from Douglas, there was also an inspector from Wilbur Smith and Associates who was out on the airport site as well, Wilbur Smith representative Mike Thomas said.
Wilbur Smith was hired by the county to help with the airport’s consulting and engineering plans, while the airport is progressively constructed, Brown said.
Thomas contended that it was not Wilbur’s fault for not catching the contaminated asphalt since they were the “second line of defense” for inspecting the construction, he said.
Thomas blamed the first line of defense-the Douglas inspection team-and he said since the asphalt was coated with oil that it was too hard to see the organic matter as it was being laid.
Ellis Wood has completed roughly 60 percent of the asphalt paving, and Brown said that the terminal and the paving are on schedule to be finished by the planned Oct. 1 completion date.
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