Burlington voters could go to the polls in October of 2014 without knowing how much money the City forked out in legal fees associated with lawsuits over construction of the Brant Street Pier. By a vote of 5-2, city council decided to keep the figures from the public until the lawsuits are resolved in court. Examinations for discovery will take place this fall, but it is unlikely any trial dates will be set until next spring. Ward 5 Councillor Paul Sharman is one of five who voted against making legal costs public at this point “We are very subject to political pressure from the public,” he said. “And the public is not informed about the litigation, since everything has been discussed confidentially so far.
The typical response from the public is, ‘Don’t pay lawyers anything’.” However, Sharman said the upcoming election had no bearing on the way he voted. Mayor Rick Goldring and Ward 2 Councillor Marianne Meed Ward were in favor of making costs public. Meed Ward said she doesn’t believe making legal costs public compromises the City’s legal strategy in any way. “We could have released figures for what we have spent up to date,” she said. At first the pier was to cost $6 million and open in 2006. Then council had a change of heart, altering plans and opting for a shorter pier. But by this time the cost had risen to $9.2 million. The pier opened in June, but seven years after construction began the cost of building it has more than doubled to $14.4 million, not including legal fees. A concrete pour in July of 2008 resulted in damage to a support beam, with the City declaring that substantial damage resulted to the underlying steel structure. Then on Aug. 22 of the same year a crane toppled on the pier, leading to misalignment of surrounding steel from abutment to node and causing damage to 3 girders. Harm Schilthuis and Sons Ltd., the original contractor, is claiming damages of $1,500,000 against Craneway Equipment Ltd. of Burlington.
The City also claims the crane accident was caused by faulty supervision, maintenance, materials, erection or preparation of the crane, for which Craneway and Schilthuis are jointly responsible. In addition, it claims the accident resulted in a work stoppage giving rise to substantial expenses. Three girders needed to be replaced, but a subsequent argument arose about whether 6 more beams needed testing or replacement. The City stipulated that 6 additional beams be replaced and a further 6 adjacent beams be reinstalled and Schilthuis had to comply with the request of the contract administrator to do the work. So Schilthuis pleads the City is responsible for additional costs and expenses associated with replacement of the 6 additional beams and reinstallment of the 6 adjacent beams, together with related costs. Schilthuis says that because of these disputes, it terminated the general contract in December of 2009 and registered a lien on the title of the property. The City hired Graham Construction to finish the work. The City made a claim on a $3,444,808.67 performance bond against the Zurich Insurance Company and says the insurers failed or refused to remedy the default of Schilthuis.
The City also denies that it owes Schilthuis anything and, in fact, that Schilthuis owes it a substantial sum The City of Burlington also claims breach of contract against the designer of the pier, AECOM, in the amount of $10 million, alleging AECOM was to be fully responsible for the project. Schilthuis also claims the pier was poorly designed. The insurance company for Craneway has made two separate payments to Schilthuis totaling $116,314.69 with respect to the direct cost of removing the fallen crane from the site But Schilthuis claims it is entitled to damages and reimbursement of all costs insured and attributable to the negligence of Craneway. As a result of the damage to the pier, Schilthuis also submitted a request for insurance coverage to its insurance provider Lombard in excess of $1.8 million. So far, Lombard has remitted a total of only $439,914 in partial satisfaction. Schilthuis also has filed claim against the City for unpaid invoices. It says that after the crane accident the City refused to accept the limited repairs recommended by various reports of consulting engineers. Allegations made in all lawsuits still must be proven in court.
By Dennis Gibbons