Frustrated with Palmview sewer project, city councilman confronts contractor

Frustration with the Palmview sewer project sparked an argument between City Councilman Joel Garcia and a contractor Wednesday.

Garcia confronted the contractor Wednesday during a public meeting that brought together the Palmview City Council, the Agua Special Utility District board and construction contractors.

Joel Garcia“I have a question,” Garcia said after reviewing several lists, which showed progress on sewer work and street paving. “I see all this. I guess the people want to know: Why is it taking so long? And when is it going to get done? Bottom line.”

Reddy Kajuluri, an engineer with S&B Infrastructure, said several factors, including heavy rain, which increased the water table in western Hidalgo County, contributed to delays.

The utility district hired L&G Construction and OG Construction to handle separate parts of the Palmview sewer project.

L&G Construction started work on March 13, 2017, according to records reviewed by the utility board.
The original, 330-day contract period ended on Feb. 5, 2018. However, the utility district approved change orders that added another 390 days.

With the change orders, the deadline for L&G Construction to complete the project became March 4, 2019.

Kajuluri said Wednesday that L&G Construction had completed work on about 80 percent of city streets in the company’s project area and transferred them to Palmview for paving.

OG Construction, which is responsible for a separate part of the city, started work on Sept. 27, 2017, according to records reviewed by the utility board.

It also had a 330-day contract period, which ended on Aug. 22, 2018. However, the utility district approved change orders that added another 174 days.

With the change orders, the deadline for OG Construction to complete the project changed to Feb. 15, 2019.

Kajuluri said Wednesday that OG Construction had completed work on just 22 percent of city streets in the company’s project area and transferred them to Palmview for paving.

That information didn’t answer Garcia’s question about when, exactly, contractors would complete the job. He started quizzing Steve Garza of Edinburg-based OG Construction, asking why the company had fallen behind schedule.

Garza blamed rain, which raised the water table, for the construction delays.

“The water table has risen 20 feet in some places,” Garza said.

Workers started pumping out water from some areas three months ago, Garza said, but they still haven’t been able to reduce the water level.

Garcia said he didn’t understand why OG Construction couldn’t handle the water.

“Were you not prepared with the equipment?” Garcia said. “Because, I mean, I’m sure this is not the first time you run into something like this.”

OG Construction made decisions based on data provided by the utility district, which included information about the water table, Garza said. Heavy rain changed the water table, which had a significant impact on the project.

“As the contractor, we’re eating a lot of this extra time. And the extra equipment,” Garza said. “And every day we’re using 20, 30 gallons of gasoline just to run generators to pump water out that we weren’t planning on.”

Garcia wasn’t impressed. He suggested OG Construction work longer days, nights and weekends to catch up.

“I don’t think our residents want to be educated on how you do your job or what you do,” Garcia said. “They want to know: When is it going to get done?”

The remaining members of the City Council and the utility board, along with contractors, engineers and more than a dozen people who attended the public meeting, watched the argument escalate.

“I remember when all this bidding was going on. Is it fair to say that you under-bid?” Garcia said, adding later: “That you shot yourself in the foot, in other words?”

The selection of OG Construction remains a point of contention.

OG Construction submitted a nearly $11.3 million bid for what the utility district calls “Phase 1 Group A&G” of the Palmview sewer project.

Saenz Brothers Construction and L&G Construction both submitted bids above $12.3 million — more than $1 million more than OG Construction.

After reviewing the bids and contractor qualifications, the utility board awarded the contract to Saenz Brothers Construction. The Texas Water Development Board, though, overruled the decision and directed the utility district to select OG Construction.

“And we supported you,” Garcia said, adding that people now blame Palmview for the abysmal state of city streets.
Garza rejected any suggestion that OG Construction hadn’t properly calculated how much the project would cost.

“The main thing is, sir, we are going to complete the job,” Garza said. “No matter what.”

Both OG Construction and L&G Construction anticipate the project will take until June to complete. That will require more change orders.

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