Airport Road hearing turns into one big ‘blame game’
The lack of a local testing lab to test for specified road/ highway materials, along with the delay of ASTCA and Blue Sky Communications in installing their underground pipelines is the reason for the delay in the airport road project.
This was revealed in a Senate hearing held yesterday, following complaints raised over the slow progress in finishing the airport road repairs.
Appearing as witnesses were Director of Public Works Faleosina Voight, along with the CEO of Whitehorn Construction Inc, Loran Whitehorn and his wife, Crystal Godinet Ve’ave’a.
Whitehorn won the contract for the project with a bid of $7.99 million.
Voight informed the Senators that the contract was awarded and the Notice to Proceed was issued last year November to kick off the construction, however by that time, the land use permit had expired and it had to be renewed.
Initially the project was scheduled to be completed by October 2013, but currently they are anticipating that the end of the year is a more realistic time frame to complete this project.
Currently, there is underground maintenance going on by ASPA, while Whitehorn is testing materials, said the DPW director.
Voight also said that ASPA requested that they be allowed to construct their underground work earlier, however Blue Sky and ASTCA only recently requested that they be allowed to conduct underground work for their lines — so that these companies will not cut up the road after it’s complete.
She further stated that a lot of materials that are specified in the contract have been approved and they are continuing to meet on the weekly basis regarding this important project.
“Maybe the public is seeing that there is no construction done to the road, which is why they are concerned, however we [Department of Public Works] and the contractor [Whitehorn] are working closely together on this assignment,” said Voight.
Sen. Mauga Tasi Asuega asked if any funds have been paid to the Whitehorn company since the contract was awarded. Loran Whitehorn noted that they have been reimbursed $390,000 that was used for the required “bid’ bond — which is a bond that must be submitted with the bid to ensure that the contractor, upon winning the bid, will proceed with the contract, and will replace it with a performance bond.
Mauga also asked Voight as to why DPW is not allowing Whitehorn to use the government's laboratory to test the specified materials.
The DPW Director explained that DPW is responsible to ensure that the materials that will be used by the contractors are the ones specified, which is why it’s a conflict of interest if they allowed Whitehorn to use the government’s lab; and the Federal Highway Administration (who is funding this project) agrees with DPW, according to Voight.
Responding to one of the questions, Ve’ave’a noted that materials that are needed for this project are available locally, and they have purchased some of these materials at places like the Tool Shop and ACE Hardware so that the money can stay within the territory. She also said the Whitehorn Company has contracted with Paramount builders, who they are working with on this project, she said.
Sen. Tuasina Esera asked Ve’ave’a if their company is ready to proceed with the project. She responded that they are waiting for the approval of specified materials from DPW, and currently the underground work is underway for ASPA, while they wait for Bluesky and ASTCA to install their pipes, before the actual construction of the Airport road can begin.
Tuasina asked if the $7.99 million is adequate to carry out the project and Ve’ave’a responded that their company believes these funds are sufficient to complete this project.
Senate President Gaoteote Palaie Tofau said the key to get the airport road construction going is working together.
He blamed DPW for the delay, given that they are not allowing Whitehorn to test their materials using the government’s lab. Gaoteote also commented that Whitehorn is purchasing local materials and contracting local companies.
Ve’ave’a said the delay is (again) due to the testing of specified materials and initially they were working with McConnell Dowell and Samoa Maritime, using their labs to conduct the tests. However, McConnell Dowell pulled out while they are waiting for Samoa Maritime. She further stated that they have asked DPW to allow them to use their lab temporarily, while they await the materials from Maritime.
Gaoteote then questioned Ve’ave’a if they still stand by their goal to have the Airport Road project completed by November. She responded that if they are allowed by DPW to use the DPW lab, they will meet their deadline.
This did not sit well with DPW Director, who pointed out this would be the first time that a contractor is asking the government for assistance in using the lab, saying that this is their responsibility as a contractor — that they must have all the materials and equipment to carry out their end of the bargain.
She further explained that DPW is responsible to ensure that the materials that will be used by the contractors are the ones among the specifications, which is why it’s a conflict of interest if they allow Whitehorn to use the government’s lab.
The Senate President urged Faleosina to work closely with Whitehorn Construction and find ways to get this project going.
In the “Airport Rd Executive Summary” by Whitehorn Construction, passed out to the senators during yesterday’s hearing, includes copies of email correspondence between DPW and Whitehorn about the use of the DPW lab by Whitehorn. The emails were exchanged over a period of two days — Mar. 07- 08, 2013.
Mar. 07: Whitehorn’s scenario, after the initial DPW denial of lab privileges, was for WCI “to rent or use the lab equipment with our own personnel due to MacDow and Samoa Maritime issues. FHWA did not take exception to the request and said it would be left up to DPW to coordinate or deny access to their lab equipment.”
Mar. 08: In reply, DPW’s position is that “our civil highways materials testing laboratory is strictly for Quality Assurance and will not be used for Quality Control purposes due to the conflicts of interest for the road project.”
Regarding the use of the DPW lab by contractors, Samoa News understands that it was routinely used in the 1990s by contractors because of costs and the time it took to send materials off island for testing.
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