Tuolumne County will pay more than $220,000 in fines and cost overruns related to construction at the future Law and Justice Center off Old Wards Ferry Road in Sonora.
The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday agreed to accept a $131,464 settlement offer from the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board for allegedly allowing sediment-laden stormwater to spill into Sullivan Creek during construction of the access road to the future jail and transit center at the site.
In addition, the board approved an amendment to a contract for construction testing and inspection services on the recently completed Mother Lode Regional Juvenile Detention Facility that increased the original amount from $96,000 to $186,000.
District 1 Supervisor and Board Chairwoman Sherri Brennan read a written statement after the board’s decision in closed session to pay the settlement agreement offered by water-quality regulators:
“ In reaching the decision, the county considered the recommendation of its attorney; evaluated the allegations of the water board; the county’s response to those allegations; the law which applied to the case; the amount of the civil penalties sought by the water board; the county’s ultimate potential for liability; the costs of going to trial; and the possible costs of appeal regardless of which party prevailed in trial court…
“... It is the county’s position that it is a fair and equitable settlement and in the county’s best interest from both the legal and economic standpoints.”
The board voted 4-0 to approve the settlement, with District 3 Supervisor Evan Royce absent because he was traveling to Washington, D.C., for the presidential inauguration ceremonies on Friday.
The county faced a maximum penalty of $190,000 over the alleged violations, according to water board documents provided by County Counsel Sarah Carrillo.
Water board staff inspected the construction site on Dec. 8 and determined the five-acre project was not prepared for an anticipated rain event due to inadequate erosion, sediment and perimeter controls, according to the documents.
Inspectors also observed sediment-laden stormwater flowing into nearby Sullivan Creek.
A report from a follow-up inspection conducted during a storm on Dec. 15 noted that the contractor had added controls to some areas and modified both sediment basins at the site, but stormwater was still making its way into Sullivan Creek.
The total amount of gallons discharged into the creek wasn’t calculated because the county opted against contesting the alleged violations, according to the documents.
On Tuesday, the board also “reluctantly” agreed to pay an additional $90,000 to the firm RMA Group for construction testing and inspection services on the $20 million Mother Lode Regional Juvenile Detention Facility project due to unforeseen rock conditions that delayed work for weeks in 2015.
The original amount of the contract was for about $96,000. The firm was originally seeking an additional $126,539, but came down to the agreed upon amount during negotiations with county administrators.
Shortly after construction on the project began in June 2015, site excavation uncovered far more underground rock than indicated by a geotechnical report that was prepared by Condor Earth Technologies Inc.
Deputy County Administrator Maureen Frank said the experience provided several lessons for staff working on future projects, including the need for more accurate geotechnical reports, require monthly progress reports between contractors and the county’s construction management consultants, and strengthen provisions in contracts regarding advance notice for approvals of additional work.
Frank said the county has included such provisions in contracts for a transit hub project at the site, as well as the upcoming $45 million jail project that’s expected to break ground sometime this summer.
District 5 Supervisor Karl Rodefer said some hiccups in the process are to be expected given that the Law and Justice Center projects are among the largest and most expensive the county has ever undertaken.
However, Rodefer stressed the need to “institutionalize” such lessons so that future county supervisors and officials don’t run into the same pitfalls while undertaking large-scale projects down the line.