Hi-Desert Water District On Collision Course With SCE Over $201K Wirebox Crushing

The Hi-Desert Water District and Southern California Edison appear to be on a collision course, based on a lack of communication or misunderstanding that led to the destruction of over $200,000 worth of electrical utility appurtenances.
The contention between the energy giant and the water utility division serving Yucca Valley and the surrounding area in the Morongo Valley arose out of Hi-Desert’s contractor on the construction of the town’s sewer system, Sukut Construction, coming across in the course of its work for the district an underground duct bank owned by Edison, which was ultimately demolished.
A duct bank is collection of PVC conduits housing electrical and data cables, closely placed or bundled together and enclosed, for the sake of integrity and protection, by concrete and metal casings.
While trenching for the sewer plant’s piping system, Sukut encountered the bank, nicking it in the process but not causing any substantial damage. The bank was not shown on any of Sukut’s diagrams or plans, as Southern California Edison had not disclosed its existence or whereabouts, as is standard protocol during the site survey period prior to the initiation of construction.
When Sukut contacted Edison, one of its corporate officers gave Sukut permission to bulldoze the bank.
Subsequently, Southern California Edison (SCE) submitted a bill for $201,631 to Sukut Construction. Sukut then submitted a $201,631 change order to the Hi-Desert Water District to cover the bill.
According to the district’s chief financial officer, Jonathan Abadesco, “Sukut Construction, LLC had utilities marked in the area of the jack and bore at TRP-19 and potholed all known utilities. Sukut encountered a Southern California Edison duct bank that was not shown on the plans or marked in the field. SCE representatives stated that the obstruction was not their duct bank and gave approval for the demo of the concrete mass that was later identified as the SCE duct bank. Due to the nature of the obstruction, the jack and bore alignment had to be redesigned. All costs for repairs of damages were agreed to be paid on a T&M [time and materials] basis. The jack and bore and casing installation were done on a pro-rated lump sum based on the original bid item per lineal foot. Damages to the SCE duct bank were repaired by SCE and an invoice for the repairs was sent to Sukut. The SCE invoice is part of this change order. The total of Change Order 0009 is $201,631, and the potential amended contract amount is $33,308,198.”
Abadesco recommended that the district board consent to the change order, and at its November 13 meeting, the board did so.
But there are indications now that the district will seek to recover from Southern California Edison the extra $201,631 that it shelled out to Sukut.
Director of Water Operations Tony Culver stated publicly this week that the destruction of the duct bank was not the result of negligence or fault on the part of the water district or Sukut, and that neither should have to bear the cost. Culver said the district will endeavor to recover the $201,631 from SCE, even if it entails “a fight.”
The $201,631 cost increase was one of eight change orders to the wastewater reclamation facility, totaling $299,443, for additional costs, additions or alterations not anticipated in the original plans and design, which will boost the overall cost of the project from $142.35 million to $142.65 million.
-Mark Gutglueck

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