Dispute on bridge job worry for contractor

Ridgefield firm may lose multimillion-dollar contract

By Cami Joner, Columbian retail & real estate reporter

Published:

 

A contract dispute over work on Portland’s Morrison Bridge involves a Clark County contractor who now stands to lose the $4.2 million job.

“We just want to finish the work,” said David Conway, president of Conway Construction Co. in Ridgefield.

Instead, a project that started in June has been idled for five weeks while Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality investigates whether the company allowed paint chips to pollute the Willamette River. The claims are spelled out in a DEQ memo dated July 22, just five days after bridge manager Multnomah County issued a stop-work order.

The county has given Conway Construction until Sept. 2 to deliver assurances that it has worked out a new system to keep contaminants out of the river.

But Conway said DEQ and Multnomah County are mistaken in their belief that materials containing elevated levels of chromium, arsenic and lead were blown into the river from the previous tarp system his company installed to catch contaminants during work to repair the Morrison’s steel grating. He said the tarp had been vacuumed before it was buffeted by a July rain storm.

Conway has proposed an alternative system that would use plywood and tarps to capture debris.

Conway is frustrated by the amount of time the county’s review of this proposal is taking. He said his company has lost about $10,000 per day during the five-week standstill.

“I had to lay off 14 workers,” he said. “They need to get back to work to support their families.”

At least three other agencies will have to approve the contractor’s proposed system to contain contaminants, said Hank Stern, a spokesman for Multnomah County.

While the county is responsible for maintaining the bridge, the work must ultimately satisfy DEQ, the Oregon Department of Transportation and the Coast Guard, along with Multnomah officials.

“Historically, Multnomah County maintains a lot of the bridges that go over the Willamette,” including the Burnside, Broadway, Hawthorne, Morrison and Sellwood bridges, he said, as well as the Sauvie Island Bridge over part of the Columbia River.

Stern said that whether Conway Construction continues to lead the job will depend on the company’s response to county requirements.

Meanwhile, Conway said he’s done everything the county has asked for and more.

“This is our third submittal. Nothing satisfies them,” he said.

With a Sept. 2 deadline looming, the consequences for Conway Construction could be dire. If the Ridgefield company does not come to agreement with Multnomah County and other parties, its contract could be terminated for default, according to a letter the county sent Thursday.