As a sponsor of the $1.1 million Shieldstown Covered Bridge rehabilitation project, Jackson County has put in 20 percent of the costs.
A National Historic Covered Bridge grant is funding the rest.
The Indiana Department of Transportation administers the federal monies and assures compliance with federal standards.
Story continues below gallery
Whether or not INDOT decides to pursue collecting liquidated damages from contractor Duncan Robertson Inc. of Franklin for the project stalling because of rejected materials, officials want to ensure the county has met federal highway specifications. That way, federal officials can’t come back and make the county pay the entire cost of the project.
“Federal highway is the heavy hammer,” county attorney Susan Bevers told commissioners during a recent meeting. “We’re talking about an additional $800,000-some that they are putting into this covered bridge. What happens if they audit, find us lacking and assess us for $800,000? That’s the worry.”
Janssen and Spaans Engineering Inc. of Indianapolis is in charge of the engineering, inspection and design of the project, and Duncan Robertson is responsible for the rehabilitation work of the 141-year-old 355-foot-long covered bridge that sits along County Road 200N in Hamilton Township and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Duncan Robertson was awarded the contract for the project in early 2015 and had until July 31, 2016, to complete it.
A subcontractor removed the siding from the bridge in the spring of 2015, but then the project stalled for months because nearly 70 percent of the wood obtained for the sides of the bridge was rejected after failing to meet national historic preservation standards. Shingles purchased for the roof replacement part of the project didn’t meet specifications, either.
The work, which includes replacement of some of the wood beams and roof and replacing the joists under the bridge, is far from complete, and the company has been incurring fines at the rate of $1,500 a day.
Jackson County Highway Superintendent Jerry Ault said whenever the job ends and the company gets paid, that money will be deducted from whatever it has coming.
Bevers said there has to be a bill in order for Duncan Robertson to be assessed liquidated damages. Those may be accruing, but INDOT could waive them, she said.
“They have drug their feet,” she said of Duncan Robertson. “We should have been done a year ago. Why should they get off scot-free with making all of the profit they thought they were going to and give us this bridge that we didn’t expect to get?”
After moving its equipment from the job site in early 2016 and making little contact with the state or county, Duncan Robertson returned to the site in December to place a wrap long enough to cover the open sides of the bridge.
With a push from INDOT and District 44 Sen. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, Duncan Robertson claimed it would resume work Sept. 1.
INDOT typically allows contractors to shut down from December to April, but Ault said it is making an exception for Duncan Robertson so work continues through the winter as long as weather permits. He said it’s possible the project could be completed by the fall of 2018.
“They have what they call a winter shutdown, where no liquidated damages count against them. They are not going to do that,” he said. “They are going to allow them to go straight through.”
Ault said one reason the original shipment of timbers for the frame of the bridge was rejected is because the wood was green. The freshly cut timbers needed more time to sit.
At the beginning of May, the wood was graded and reinspected at Duncan Robertson by a grader hired by INDOT, and the wood that was acceptable was wrapped and shipped to the highway garage in Brownstown. Ault was present at Duncan Robertson for that process.
“There were a lot of pieces that were cracked or bowed so bad that we were able to cut them down and get a length that they could still use, but then they had to reorder what they were short. Some of them are 40 feet long, 22 feet long and various sizes,” Ault said. “Whatever they could cut back and use, they are going to be able to use. Everything else, they have had to reorder.”
Duncan Robertson has shown proof of reordering the shipment of timbers and a copy of the check for the 20 percent deposit it put down.
INDOT recently told county officials it is willing to cover the cost for an inspector.
“My worry is that INDOT has already been willing to accept materials that we weren’t willing to accept, and so if they’re inspecting and the engineer is making the decision on whether they are going to accept something or not, how do we know we’re getting the original bridge that was designed for us?” Bevers said.
She has been looking through the 1,000-plus-page federal highway specifications manual to make sure the county complies with the contract.
“We’ve already got our 20 percent match in there. We have paid the maximum amount under this contract that’s going to be assessed to us,” Bevers said.
“If we run afoul on federal highway and this grant gets audited, which we know it takes a couple of years for these grants to get closed out and for that audit process to happen, are we going to get charged the 80 percent that the covered bridge grant is going to be covering because we have done something against the specifications manual for federal highway? I’m trying to really hone that down.”