WILKES-BARRE — The city intends to proceed with the Solomon Creek wall reconstruction project and confirmed it will use a different contractor after terminating the low bidder AR Popple Inc. for still undisclosed reasons.
Wilkes-Barre city Administrator Ted Wampole said Tuesday the threat of litigation by AR Popple prevented him from talking about the termination notice issued by the city July 13.
“There’s not a lot we can say,” Wampole said.
However, the plan is to carry on with the next lowest bidder, Don E. Bower Inc., of Berwick.
“I don’t think this will put too much of a delay on the project,” said Wampole.
He said Joyce Morrash Zaykowski, director of the Office of Economic and Community Development who is overseeing the project, has reached out to the state and federal agencies that provided more than $6 million in grants to make sure the city can hire the runner-up bidder to Popple.
Zaykowski was on vacation and Wampole did not have immediate access to Bower’s bid. He estimated it was between $400,000 and $500,000 higher than Popple’s.
The infrastructure project was a campaign issue for Mayor Tony George in his 2015 election bid. It’s also been a priority of his to see it through to completion with a combination of city, state and federal funds totaling over $10 million.
In May, Wilkes-Barre-based Popple submitted a bid of $1,548,488, the lowest of the five contractors who were interested in rebuilding sections of the concrete and stone Depression-era wall that forms a channel for the creek as it flows through South Wilkes-Barre.
Popple’s numbers were so different from the others that the city “raised questions about his bid,” Wampole said. They were checked and the firm was awarded the contract.
Tony Popple, senior vice president of the construction company, said he and his staff completed a 50-page qualification questionnaire prepared by Borton-Lawson. The reason his bid came in the lowest is because the company has done this type of work before.
“We know the process to get this wall engineered and built,” Popple said.
The company was given a notice to proceed June 11, but by then Popple had already started the process to have Oldcastle Precast begin the engineering for the prefabricated concrete wall and paid for it with his own money.
A day after receiving the notice, Popple submitted a bill to the city for $95,000 for the work done up to that date, he said. Under the terms of the contract, he said that was to be paid within 10 days of approval by the engineer. The engineer approved it that same day, June 12, he noted.
“I should have been paid on June 22,” said Popple.
He said he’s going to file suit for payment he estimated at $211,000 that includes more than 1,000 man-hours put into the project.
In addition to waiting for payment from the city, Popple said he is still waiting for an explanation on why his company was let go.
The taxpayers also deserve an explanation on why the project is costing a half million dollars more, he said.
“They’re going to be very, very desperate to spin this in a positive note,” Popple said. “How do they justify another $700,000?”
Reach Jerry Lynott at 570-991-6120 or on Twitter @TLJerryLynott.