Inspector claims 'serious problems' with Beaufort County policies, construction of new bridge

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A Bluffton-based firm tasked with engineering and inspection services for the widening of S.C. 802 and the construction of the bridge next to the J.E. McTeer Bridge has sent a letter to Beaufort County Councilman Weston Newton claiming that "there are currently many serious problems occurring on this project" and questioning the county's decision to reduce the number of inspectors on the project.

In fact, the Dennis Corporation's letter to Newton includes a laundry list of issues, claims and allegations.

Dennis Corporation was hired to oversee the widening of S.C. 802 from S.C. 280 to S.C. 170 (map) and from Lady's Island Drive to Ribaut Road (map.) Additionally the company is handling engineering and inspections of the new bridge going up next to the J.E. McTeer Bridge - a $35 million project (map.)

On Monday night Dan Dennis, president of Dennis Corporation, stood before the County Council to outline his issues with the project and the county's decision to reduce the number of inspectors. According to a brief writeup in the Island Packet the issue was referred by council to its Public Facilities Committee.

We emailed Dennis Corporation this morning and asked for the letter from Dan Dennis to Weston Newton. We got it. Here's what it says, in part:

As Beaufort County’s client, I have a duty to inform you that there are currently many serious problemsoccurring on this project that could jeopardize the IGA and the quality standards required by law, andviolate Dennis Corporation’s insurance coverage for the project. Several weeks ago, DennisCorporation was directed by Beaufort County staff to reduce our construction engineering andinspection (CEI) staff from 10 inspectors to only 4. Four inspectors cannot possibly ensure that theroadway and bridge is constructed, inspected and tested properly. Currently, 150 construction workersare working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to make certain that this project is completed by August,2011.

The letter goes on to detail two recent "major incidents involving the safety of the traveling public through the work zone and the structural integrity of the bridge occurred."

  • The first incident occurred on the evening of Friday, November 5, 2010 at approximately 11:30 pmwhen Anger Management, a tug boat out of Jacksonville, FL, was pushing a salvage barge, madecontact and was stuck in pillars (dolphins) next to the construction of the new bridge. As the tugboat was trying to maneuver the barge from the dolphins, it rammed into and caused damage to the Bent 11 footer of the new bridge. A representative from the tug boat stated that they lost control andhad engine problems. Misener Marine, a subcontractor, was on site and contacted 911 and Port Royal Police. 911 and Port Royal Police called the Coast Guard and Beaufort County Emergency Management. At no time was County staff or Dennis Corporation personnel contacted because we were not on site. No documentation of the incident was taken. To my knowledge, there were no photos taken, eye witness reports or immediate damage assessment to the bridge and dolphinsrecorded. This is totally unacceptable. I would recommend that since Dennis Corporation is contractually liable for this project that we immediately perform underwater inspections and determine the extent of the damage.
  • The other incident occurred yesterday, Sunday, November 7, 2010 at approximately 1:30 pm. Sanders Brothers were working in the middle of SC 802 (Old Savannah Highway) to removeconcrete barriers. The contractor had 3 pickup trucks, 7 workers, 1 skid steer excavator and 1 frontend loader all stationed in the middle of SC 802. All of this was going on in the middle of traffic. They had limited barrels, but were not compliant with their signage for a flagging operation. They did not have flaggers stopping traffic so that the loader could cross the travel way. A witness stated that the excavator swung out into traffic and almost hit their vehicle during this operation. Dennis Corporation was not informed by the contractor that this work was going to take place, nor werethere any press releases to SCDOT or Beaufort County. No one from the County or Dennis Corporation was aware that this work was planned and no one was on site to stop it.

The letter also includes a a string of emails between Dennis Corporation and county staff. In those emails the Dennis Corporation questions why the number of inspectors are being reduced and why the lead bridge contractor - United Contractors - has been allowed to hire a subsidiary company to perform inspections.

As you may recall, the county and public determined the parallel bridge was necessary after a barge and crane struck the J.E. McTeer Bridge in 2007, rendering it unusable and stifling Beaufort traffic for months. 

You can read all the e-mails and letter in a PDF here.

We'll be interested to see where this story goes, because we know it surely won't end here.

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