'They Didn't Do Their Job": Chehalis to Spend Extra $215K on Pacific Avenue Reconstruction Project


The City of Chehalis will foot an extra $215,000 for the Northwest Pacific Avenue Reconstruction project currently underway between Park and Main streets due to insufficient subsurface soils found during construction.

The city council at a regular meeting on Monday reluctantly approved the increase in a 5-1 vote. Councilor Isaac Pope was the lone dissenting vote and Councilor Jerry Lord was absent from the meeting.

“During the demolition phase of the project, it was discovered that native soils below the existing roadway consist of soft clay-like materials that are not suitable for new road construction design,” read a change order summary given to council. “Over time, this soft native soil would cause the surface of NW Pacific Avenue to unevenly sink and belly.”

If built on the soil, it’s possible the new roadway would be subject to issues such as uneven surface settling, cracking, potholing and ponding of stormwater on the roadway. Geotechnical analysis conducted in 2018 that looked at materials under the road prior to the work should have identified deficiencies, the council said.

The original bidding contract, which was awarded to Rognlin’s Construction in April, for the high-priority project initially stipulated a 10% contingency allowing the project to max out at $1.523 million.

With new action from council, the project can now max out at $1.675 million, including a new 21% contingency for possible overspending. The timeline was also extended an additional 21 days.

Bob Balmelli, principal engineer and owner of RB Engineering, answered questions posed by the council and described to the council the geotechnical analysis that was done. Balmelli said the company that did the geotech work bored three or four holes, ranging 3 to 4 feet, and conservatively recommended a road section of around a foot of roadway.

The warm weather also complicated things. Since the work is being done during the warmer summer months, the heat affected the moisture content of the unsuitable clay material, Balmelli said.

It was then recommended to them by the geotech workers that the city remove roughly 1,725 cubic yards of the soil and place an additional 2,400 tons of crushed rock and 4,500 square yards of “geotextile fabric” to meet the 25-year life of the road.

Balmelli said the geotech contractors were taking a “practical approach” in their conservative assessment of the ground underneath, and that they were attempting to minimize the cost. Rognlin’s Construction’s accepted bid back in April also came in around $200,000 under their estimate, Balmelli said.

“I’d rather have the bad news in advance instead of the conservative estimate,” said Councilor Bob Spahr.

Mayor Dennis Dawes said he would have liked to see more borings done and at a deeper level. The trolley tracks that were also dug up during the start of the project also could have caused problems for them, too, and finding those turned out to be a welcome surprise.

There was oversight on the part of the contractor, Dawes said plainly, and he wasn’t happy the taxpayers were left to foot the bill.

“Obviously, we can’t stop the project — that makes absolutely no sense at all — and settle out the cards,” Dawes said, adding later: “It needs to be completed, there’s no question about that. I’ll have to support this recommendation here, but I do think this needs a review on it as to what the city can do to recover (funds) ... I just don’t think it’s fair, and I’m not really happy with how this came out.”

Dawes said he understands the need for contractors to utilize change orders, but this was too substantial.

Pope suggested Balmelli take the subcontractor that did the geotech work off their shortlist of specialists.

“They didn’t do their job,” he said.

The NW Pacific Avenue Reconstruction Project is included in the city’s 2021 budget. A majority of the project is being funded with transportation benefit district (42%) dollars, as well as funds from the city’s stormwater fund (25%) and water fund (33%).