Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Dispute with contractor leaves 3 Vernon streets a mess

By Jason Rowe
Journal Inquirer
October 10, 2006

VERNON - A dispute over money between the town and a Massachusetts construction contractor will probably leave three streets in the Rockville section of town with only temporary paving this winter.

While planned reconstruction of the three streets - Lawrence, Mountain, and Webster - is stalled by the dispute, the town is poised to do a temporary paving job to assure that they will be suitable for snow plowing, officials say.

The streets were supposed to be rebuilt this year as part of the $19.2 million road reconstruction project approved by voters at referendum in November 2004.

The reconstruction work began in the spring but was halted at the end of June to allow utility companies to complete reconstruction of gas and water lines on the three streets.

The utility contractors completed their work in August, and the contractor on the road reconstruction project - Baltazar Contractors Inc. of Ludlow, Mass. - was expected to resume work after Labor Day.

But more than a month has passed, and Baltazar has refused to come back to work. At issue is an extra $230,000 that the contractor says the town owes for the work it has already done.

Town Administrator Christopher Clark disputes Baltazar's claim and says the company is still required by its $2 million contract to complete the work.

The town has already paid Baltazar $200,000, or about 10 percent of the total.

But Baltazar officials have told the town that delays relating to the utility construction and other cost increases have left them with $230,000 in additional expenses.

Clark said Baltazar should have taken the utility work into account when scheduling the project.

If the contractor isn't back at work this week, Clark said, the town is planning to use the company's performance bond to winterize the streets immediately and later finish the reconstruction work.

"We keep saying to Baltazar, 'Come back to work,' and Baltazar won't come back until we pay that overage," Clark said. "We recognize we have a difference of opinion, but we do not believe it was that much of a change."

A woman who answered the telephone at Baltazar's office today said the company wouldn't comment on the project.

Meanwhile residents of the affected area worry about the appearance and safety of the unfinished streets, particularly a section of Lawrence Street, which has several large ditches alongside it.

Last Wednesday, Clark, Town Engineer Tim Timberman, and a consulting engineer met with more 30 residents to discuss the status of the project.

Jim Gillon, a Lawrence Street resident, says there is a hole near his home that is 4 feet deep and 10 feet long.

"Mountain and Lawrence are a real mess," Gillon wrote in a letter to a reporter last week.

Clark says he understands the residents' frustration and hopes they will be patient as the town works to winterize the streets and compete the reconstruction next spring.

When the winterization is done, "it's not going to look beautiful, but it will look better than it currently does," Clark said.

In July, a car was swallowed by a 5-foot sinkhole on Lawrence Street after a water-main test weakened the soil under the road. The driver was uninjured, and the car wasn't seriously damaged.

©Journal Inquirer 2006