BILOXI -- It hasn't been easy for residents in areas where crews are digging up sewer and water pipes or for those heading to casinos or other Biloxi businesses -- and it's about to get much worse.
The city's contract with HNTB Corp. to oversee the $365 million project will run out in February and the money for the contract by April, but the work won't be done for three more years -- until the end of 2018.
This comes just as the work moves south of the railroad tracks to the busiest areas of the city along and near U.S. 90. For the next three years, the work will stretch at times all the way from Point Cadet to the west end of Biloxi.
"We have met with MEMA and FEMA and called our state and federal representatives," said David Nichols, Biloxi's chief administrative officer.
FEMA says no to extension
The state and federal emergency-management agencies won't pay for an extension of the HNTB contract. "It's capped and there won't be any more money coming from them," Nichols said the city has been told.
Bids have been coming in millions of dollars under budget and Nichols said the contract has $6.5 million in engineering fees still available. But FEMA told the city that money can't be used for program management, which inspects the work, justifies the expense to FEMA and tracks the paperwork for the audits, which already have begun.
"We've worked with HNTB trying to figure out what we're going to do," Nichols said. The city's options are to oversee the project in house by continuing to work with HNTB but "at a much reduced cost," he said. Or Biloxi can hire engineers and inspectors who aren't familiar with what's been done. That likely will cost city taxpayers $200,000 to $250,000 a month, he said, or at least $6 million for 30 months for the federal project.
Marvin Dalla Rosa, HNTB program manager for the project, said invoices run about $300,000 a month to pay 10 inspectors, the construction manager and six people in the office, including Dalla Rosa and project manager Nicole Dane, a licensed engineer.
"We managed to take what was originally going to be a 54-month project and have been able to stretch that to 94 months," he said. "We've got just the minimum staff we need."
Crazy things uncovered
They've uncovered crazy things as the project moved around the city, Dane said. Crews find pipes nobody knew were there and connections that when they cut off the water to one area, service is disrupted to a single business a quarter-mile away. They've found buried car bodies, and when they get to the area south of the tracks they expect to find old trolley tracks and possibly human skeletons. Dalla Rosa said they identified most of the burial grounds but an archeological observer will have to be on site during construction and will stop work if any remains are found.
The project was supposed to start in October 2008 but FEMA didn't fully approve funding until 2010. FEMA decided to photograph the existing PVC pipe under ground, "which really slowed us down about 19 months," he said.
FEMA signed off on the project in May 2011, when construction of the first $1.37 million project started at Sunkist.
The 20 projects range from $600,000 to $117 million. Ten are complete and five are nearing completion, he said. Bids for the south contract will be opened in November.
"This construction is going on and somebody's got to watch it," he said. "There's going to geysers on 90 at some point, guaranteed."