Hudson selectmen chastise consultant over projectBy APRIL GUILMET
Union Leader Correspondent
July 23. 2014 10:19PM
HUDSON — Selectmen aren’t too happy about how the town’s project consultant handled the recent bid process for the new Pelham Road bridge.
During Tuesday night’s meeting, several board members chastised John Byatt of CLD Consulting Engineers for his role in advising the town to seek bids, as well as his incorrect initial project estimates.
As the town’s only dam deemed hazardous by the state Department of Environmental Services, Hudson officials had hoped to replace the dam with a bridge this summer.
But on July 8, selectmen agreed they had no choice but to reject the sole project bid they received, as it came in about $300,000 higher than expected.
Town Engineer Laurie Stevens said the best option now would be to reopen bids later this fall, when other contractors have more time on their calendars for the 2015 summer season.
Owned by the town, the Pelham Road culvert is a roadway that doubles as a dam. Following a state inspection in spring 2013, Jim Gallagher, DES bureau chief of Dam Services, informed the town that the culvert was unsafe because of its insufficient capacity to discharge water.
Consequently, the town enrolled in a state bridge program and is eligible to receive grant funds for 80 percent of the project’s final costs.
CLD consultants advised the town that the project would cost approximately $580,000. However, the single bid the town received last month, submitted by Northeast Earth Mechanics, was in the $880,000 range.
Town Administrator Steve Malizia said if future bids were also high, the town wouldn’t have enough money to cover its 20 percent of the project, and the new bridge might have to wait even longer than a year.
“If that happens, we may have to put it on the ballot for voters to decide,” Malizia said.
This week, selectmen told CLD officials that their estimate, could ultimately cost the town thousands more in the end.
Time an issue
Byatt told town officials that the consulting process is based on historical numbers as well as price averages for similar projects in the region, among other things.
“I admit our estimate came up short,” he told selectmen this week. “But the main problem was that we only got one bid.”
Byatt said that several excavation contractors had told him June “wasn’t the best time of the year to bid this out.”
He said his estimate represented “not only what we expected, but what we felt was a reasonable amount.”
Board Chairman Roger Coutu said the difference in bid amount versus the consultant’s estimate was “significant.”
“Another board with little or no knowledge of this, knowing it needed to be done, might have allowed this through and approved this inflated bid,” Coutu said. “It makes me wonder … how the hell could you be that far off?”
Byatt said the project could, in fact, end up being much more costly than initially believed because of the high level of ledge on the site, which is more expensive to excavate.
He said his firm was paid “probably around $100,000” for its consulting services to the town.
“This is not acceptable to me,” Coutu told him.
Selectmen Rick Maddox said CLD has worked with the town for many years, but he too took issue with the most recent round of advice.
“If you told us to bid in November instead, we would have done that,” Maddox told Byatt. “But you didn’t set any parameters.”
Byatt told the board he expected construction costs to go up by about 3 percent by next summer, though noted that “it’s very hard to predict.”
“This could be an expensive hit for the town,” Maddox said. “We paid for consulting, now we’re sitting here and we can’t do this project now because we don’t have the money. … CLD did not do the town of Hudson right in this, and whatever the cost, we shouldn’t have to pay for it.”