WILKES-BARRE — The Solomon Creek wall project took a big step backward with the city’s termination of the contract with the construction company hired to do the job.
Joyce Morrash Zaykowski, the city’s director of the Office of Economic and Community Development overseeing the project, said Monday she was not at liberty discuss why AR Popple Inc. was terminated.
But Tony Popple had plenty to say.
“All of this was going like clockwork. All of a sudden here we are,” said Popple, senior vice president of the Wilkes-Barre-based company.
His notice came late Friday afternoon in an email from Zaykowski that said the city intended to sever ties with Popple and cited a section of the contract that stated it could be done at any time and without a reason.
“We were so proactive, we were rewarded last Friday with a termination,” Popple said.
Mayor Tony George campaigned on rebuilding the Depression-era wall and stepped up his efforts after a 40-foot section of the wall collapsed into the creek bed in December 2016. He committed $4 million through a bond deal to pay for the construction of a pump station and secured more than $6 million in state grants toward a comprehensive fix of the crumbling infrastructure.
Popple submitted a bid of $1,548,488, the lowest of the five bids opened on May 4 for the project to rebuild the wall along Brook Street between Waller and South Franklin streets. The contract also included a new roadway, curbs and sidewalks.
Popple said his company was planning to use a prefabricated concrete wall identical to the one it completed in Lykens in Dauphin County.
The city sent Popple a notice of award on May 22 and Popple said he secured performance and payment bonds in order to proceed with the project. His proposed schedule was to begin excavation on Aug. 1 and start the installation of the base sections by Sept. 1 with another 60 days to build the entire middle section of the wall.
Popple estimated he’s spent $95,000 to date, including $55,000 for the engineering of the wall from the supplier, Oldcastle Precast, and put in 1,000 man hours for a total of approximately $211,000.
A bill submitted in June for payment is overdue 21 days, Popple said. That tells him “they were having a funding issue,” he said.
Adding to his frustration dealing with the city was a hastily called meeting last week. Popple said he contacted his workers and pulled them off jobs to attend the meeting only to be informed by a phone call 10 or 15 minutes before the start that it was cancelled.
Popple said Zaykowski is in over her head on the project due to her lack of construction experience and others in the administration don’t have the experience and qualifications to do their jobs correctly. “The whole city is incompetent,” he said.
The city informed him that it plans to hire the next lowest bidder, Don E. Bower Inc. of Berwick who came in a half million dollars higher, Popple said. His next step is filing suit for payment from the city.
Losing the job hurts him and his employees, Popple said. But this was the last straw dealing with the city after more than 30 years.
”We don’t want to give up work. Our workers are from Wilkes-Barre. We like local work. We operate much more economically,” Popple said. The Lykens job took more than a hour of travel time each day, he added.
“I really don’t want to work for the city anymore,” Popple said.
Sean McKeag file photo| Times Leader
Reach Jerry Lynott at 570-991-6120 or on Twitter @TLJerryLynott.