Biloxi council balks at pace of massive project

January 30, 2014
By Mary Perez at Sun Herald

BILOXI -- City Council members said they are unhappy with the progress of the massive project to repair or replace water, sewer and drainage damaged by Hurricane Katrina and voted Tuesday not to pay the latest invoice from HNTB, the company hired to oversee the work.

Marvin Dallas Rosa with HNTB said one of the largest contracts on the Coast will be advertised for bids next week. It's estimated the contract to repair or replace infrastructure north of the railroad tracks in East Biloxi will be $120 million.

"We've got some big contractors already looking at that work," he said.

The contract for work south of the tracks will follow in three to four months. He said the work on both will take three years and cost more than $200 million.

Work also will begin soon at Edgewater Park, he said, but will be preceded by public meetings.

Councilman George Lawrence asked if the city will run out of money before the HNTB contract is up and the work is done.

David Nichols, the city's chief administrative officer, said FEMA has cooperated with the city on time extensions for other projects.

The original FEMA timelines were unrealistic, Dalla Rosa said, even if there had

been no issues. But there were issues. FEMA held up work for 18 months to inspect the underground PVC pipe and it took much longer than the city expected to get CSX approval for work in the right-of-way for the railroad tracks.

"Now they know what it's going to take," he said of FEMA.

He said FEMA is happy with the work being done and there is no indication from the agency that it won't fund the project.

"The amount of work being done is substantial," Dalla Rosa told the council. "You're doing 50 years of work and you expect it to be done in four years."

He has three or four contracts going at the same time and said he has a staff of 12 to do the inspections, the bids and the FEMA paperwork.

"There's going to be an audit when this is done," he said.

Dalla Rosa said the city can't see all the work being done because most of it is underground

"You're exactly right. We don't see it," Councilman Kenny Glavan said. "We need to speed up."

Dalla Rosa said it's not as simple as just going faster. The work has to be coordinated so contractors aren't working over each other, he said, and so people can still live and do business while the work goes on.

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