New harbor rules approved; spring and summer events get go-ahead

Belfast Council questions expert cost estimates after second major misquote

Route 141 rock removal to cost double engineer’s calculation, resembles similar error on separate project
Wed, 03/18/2015 - 8:45am

Story Location:
1 Searsport Avenue
Belfast, ME 04915
United States

    BELFAST - Plans to remove an outcropping of rock at the intersection of Routes 1 and 141 have gone at a geologic pace since they were proposed in 2013, despite the apparent efforts of city officials to move things along. Unlike past safety improvements delayed by the timelines of state agencies, the rock removal appeared to have been held up because the original cost estimate undershot actual bids by 50 percent or more.

    City officials put the work out to bid four times based on an estimate that City Planner Wayne Marshall told the City Council was around $25,000-$30,000. On Tuesday, the Council accepted the lowest bid from the most recent open call: $58,000 from Rockport-based Farley & Son.

    The discrepancy came on the heels of news earlier this month that a planned overhaul of Cross Street was similarly underestimated.

    Like the Route 141 rock removal, the Cross Street improvements were put out to bid multiple times after real bids came in more than double the estimate. Cross Street was conceived on the back of a $500,000 Downtown Revitalization Grant awarded to the city in 2013 and initially projected to cost $600,000. On March 3, the Council approved $530,000 in city money for the project, bringing the potential total cost to over $1 million.

    The Council overlooked the miscalculation for Cross Street based on what councilors judged to be good design work done as part of a combined design/engineering job by Portland-based Sebago Technics.

    Several Councilors questioned Marshall about the discrepancies. In both cases, the city planner noted that the engineering firms were picked by the Council through a competitive bid process. Marshall previously said that Sebago Technics had reported misjudging the cost of materials in this part of the state. On Tuesday, he said the same may have been a factor in the Route 141 estimate, which was done by a different firm.

    “We need to get engineering firms that know what the heck they’re doing,” said Councilor Eric Sanders.

    Councilor Mike Hurley took a similar view. He suggested the city get a performance guarantee from engineers in the future.

    “Something where there’s a penalty for completely missing the target,” he said.

    Assistant City Planner Sadie Lloyd said the contract for the rock ledge removal is still subject to approval by the Federal Highway Administration. If accepted, the higher-than-expected cost “would leave very little money” for electrical work needed for new flashing signs on Route 1 to slow traffic and alert drivers to a crosswalk just east of the intersection, she said.

    In other business, the Council:

    • Approved a number of requests to use city facilities and streets in the spring and summer, including:

    – A Hawaiian-themed community gathering to be put on by the city’s parks and recreation department, the Waldo County Y and Our Town Belfast. The event will close Main Street between High Street and Church Street for a half-hour on April 1.
    – The Trek Across Maine multi-day bicycle ride fundraiser, which traditionally ends in Belfast. 
    – Earth Day events, including a waiver of the fee to use of the Boathouse
    in exchange for some kind of community service, to be determined. Mayor Walter Ash suggested that organizers adopt a portion of the Passy Rail Trail to keep clean.

    • Approved new rules that would require owners of moorings in the outer harbor to use them every other year at a minimum.

    Contact Ethan Andrews at: