BRADENTON -- The Wares Creek dredging and widening project is being held up by a dispute between the contractor and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Most of the $52.7 million project has gone smoothly, officials said, and two segments of the final phase are proceeding, which includes widening and stabilizing the creek from 21st Avenue West south to 30th Avenue West with completion at Cortez Road.
Because the three project phases were awarded to different contractors, phase I is complete and phase III is progressing. However, phase II has stalled.
In April, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reported phase II was two months behind schedule due to issues with the contractor. The Bradenton Herald learned Thursday problems with Air Ideal Inc. of Winter Haven continue to delay completion of phase II.
"There hasn't been any work done presently," said Amanda Parker, public affairs specialist for the Corps. "Right now the contractor is still behind schedule so the Corps is working on a path forward and should know by Oct. 1 what that path forward is."
Parker declined to comment on the problems saying only the remaining work "is moving along fine."
A representative of Air Ideal did not return calls for comment Thursday. The company holds licenses for mechanical, air conditioning and general contracting, according to its website.
Ward 3 Councilman Patrick Roff said he wonders how the company was awarded the contract with no listed credentials in dredge work. Roff said there has also been problems with the companies Air Ideal subcontracted with to do the work.
"It's not unusual to have some problems," said Roff. "But how they got this contract, I have no idea. I know there was an accident during Labor Day weekend where they broke a pipe and knocked down a transmission line. Previously, there was a dispute about how much mud needed to be removed and whether it was going to cost more money, but their dispute is with the Corps."
Roff said the contractor will likely either walk off the site or be dismissed by the Corps on Oct. 1.
"Either way, every bit of this project is bonded and whether they walk off or get kicked off, the Corps will take the bond and hire someone else to do it," he said. "I'm not worried about it. The work always gets done and the biggest part of the project through Tropical Palms is done."
Despite the delay, Roff said he is mostly happy with project results so far.
"The basins down below are unbelievable," he said. "It's always been a rich estuary and we haven't lost any of the wading birds or manatees, and what I've seen for the first time since living here are dolphins in the creek, and I even saw a shark fin. So none of the wildlife has gone away and, in fact, we've enhanced it."
The last of four bridge replacements is nearing completion, according to Jim McLellan, engineering section manager for Bradenton.
The 17th Avenue West bridge will reopen to traffic by the end of October. The city share of the project was to replace bridges at 17th, Ninth, 12th and 14th avenues west at about $1.7 million apiece. The city used low-interest loans through the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for half the costs and the Southwest Florida Water Management District funded the rest.
"The bridge projects are a sister project to the dredging because any work done to the creek to improve its hydraulics means we needed to make sure those bridges didn't become a choke point," said McLellan, who noted residents along the creek had a "historic flooding problem, but thus far I haven't had a single complaint."
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.