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Larned water line project on hold due to supply shortages
Larned water line work
Workers from Cobalt Construction begin exploratory work on the water line distribuntion project in Larned . The project is currently on hold as contractors struggle with supply shortages. - Tribune File photo

LARNED — The large-scale project to upgrade Larned’s aging waterlines is now on hold after the Larned City Council approved the signing of a temporary Stop Work Order requested by multiple contractors working on the project.

In late June and early July, both True Solutions LLC and Woodward, Okla.-based Cobalt Construction wrote Manhattan-based Shwab-Eaton Engineering, who is overseeing the project for the city, advising the firm of their inability to acquire sufficient materials to continue work on the early phases of the project.

Both contractors, Larned City Manager Bradley Eilts said, began sourcing materials after being awarded bids for the work in March of this year. While the contractors had some supplies on hand, he said, it was not enough to proceed with work on Larned’s water project.

According to Eilts, both contractors expressed difficulty obtaining adequate pipe, valves, hydrants, fittings and more from their material supplier, Ferguson Waterworks of Hutchinson.

In communications with the contractors, Eilts said, Ferguson continued to push back their timeline for delivery of materials to the contractors, until eventually advising both contractors they could not commit to a delivery date for materials at all.

The reason, Ferguson told the contractors, was because their own raw material suppliers, most of whom were located overseas, were not even scheduling production runs at this time, so Ferguson did not know when they would be able to produce enough materials to provide to the contractors.

In response, both contractors sought out other material distributors for the project. However, Eilts said, both contractors advised the city they were experiencing the same difficulty with multiple manufacturers, both overseas and domestically.

What this means for the project

As a result, the City of Larned held a Zoom call which included both contractors, Schwab-Eaton, the City Water Department, and Faye Trent with the Kansas Department of Commerce, the grant administrator for the nearly $600,000 Community Development Block Grant which is helping fund the first three phases of the project.

As part of the grant approval process, the contractors agree to complete work on the project in a defined number of work days. The target, in this case, was to have the first three phases completed by December of this year. As a result of the material shortage, both contractors deemed this timeline untenable.

Trent told the city other projects throughout Kansas are experiencing similar material shortage issues. So both contractors requested what is known as a Stop Work Order, which would have to be approved by the city.

Eilts said a Stop Work Order is similar in function to what occurs in delays caused by adverse weather conditions. Under the order, any days the contractors are unable to complete work as a result of the shortage of materials do not count as workdays against the agreed-to project completion timeline.

As part of the order, though, the contractors will be required provide regular updates to Schwab-Eaton and the City of Larned as to the status of material supply, and work is to begin again as soon as the contractors have sufficient materials to do so. Eilts said while the exact language of the order is still being worked out, it will be written to ensure this takes place.

Also as part of the order, both contractors agreed to refill holes in the streets they left as part of the initial exploratory hydro-vac work until such time as they are able to continue.

Eilts said the exact timeline for when work will be able to continue on the project is still unclear, but said the city will review the status of the project with the Department of Commerce toward the end of 2021.

Because of this, he said, the grant funding for the project will not be jeopardized as a result of the delay.

Project background

Crews from Cobalt began exploratory work on the first three phases of the ten-phase project in early June. The total project was slated to cost around $4.5 million, with the first three phases coming in around $1.2 million.

Last year, the city’s request for a Community Development Block Grant totalling $596,000 was approved to put toward the first three phases of the water lines, with the hopes of addressing the most deteriorated of the 100-plus year old lines first.

The city was able to match the funds for the first three phases through a restructuring of the city’s municipal water rates, a move which was expected to generate an additional annual revenue of just over $1.1 million and help the city fund its portion of the project without taking on additional debt.

When crews began work in June, the original target was to complete work covering portions of Larned between 6th and 13th streets north to south, and Kansas to Fry streets east to west over roughly the next six months.

The origins of the massive project dates back more than four years, when the city brought in Schwab-Eaton to inventory the city’s water lines.

The firm helped the city put together a master plan to eventually replace cast iron waterlines throughout the city with updated C900 PVC pressure-rated cast-iron equivalent water pipes, in hopes of preventing leaks, and creating more consistent water pressure in the lines.