Peterborough receives $750,000 in breached contract settlement

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Monday, April 09, 2018 5:51PM

The town of Peterborough has received $750,000 from an engineering firm in a settlement agreement that was reached early last month.

The town of Peterborough lodged the suit against Woodard & Curran Inc, a firm based out of Portland, Maine, in April 2016, according to court documents filed in the Hillsborough Superior Court. In a news release, the town claimed the firm “breached its contract with the town and was negligent in its work to close Peterborough’s three wastewater lagoons.”

Peterborough’s Town Administrator Rodney Bartlett said on Thursday that the town has received the sum and plans to put it toward the closure of two lagoons at the wastewater treatment facility.

Jeffrey L. Alitz, an attorney with the LeClairRyan in Boston who is listed as the lead attorney representing the engineering firm, didn’t reply to an email sent by the Ledger-Transcript on Thursday. 

According to court documents the town filed in Superior Court in 2016, the town retained Woodard & Curran in 2001 and worked with the company through 2013. The firm was tasked with lowering the wastewater treatment facility effluent discharges in anticipation of more stringent phosphorus, ammonia and total nitrogen levels being handed down from state and federal officials.

Woodard & Curran was tasked with reevaluating alternative effluent discharge strategies, making upgrades to the town’s wastewater treatment facility, and closing three of its existing lagoons, according to court documents. The project was slated to be completed in two phases; the first was aimed at upgrading the wastewater treatment facility, and the second, to decommission the three lagoons.

The new wastewater treatment facility came online in July 2012. Once the facility was up-and-running, the three lagoons at the site were no longer needed.

Woodard & Curran presented a formal engineering proposal in 2012. Later that year, the firm anticipated the closure of the lagoons would come with a $750,000 price tag, according to the town’s complaint. The firm denied that claim in a court document after the town lodged the complaint. 

In October 2013, the firm presented its decommissioning plan and stated the project, which the town had relied on for setting the costs of the wastewater treatment facility upgrade project, was no longer possible. The town claimed it was told the closure of a single lagoon would cost $588,000, according to court documents. The firm denied the claim in a court document.

The process to decommission lagoon one started in 2014.

In its proposal, the town claimed the firm had estimated the average sludge thickness was a foot or under in each of the lagoons. The firm said it did provide engineering services to the town, but denied that those services were “improper,” according to court documents.

During the decommissioning process, the town discovered that the sludge in lagoon one wasn’t one inch deep like the firm had allegedly indicated, but more than 20 inches thick. The firm denied the allegation in court documents.

The town removed the sludge, which was stored on site, and filled in lagoon one with 70,000 cubic yards of material, according to the town’s complaint.

The cost to close lagoon one cost the town more than $1 million, according to the document.

The price tag didn’t include lagoons two and three, which still need to be taken offline. The complaint states that the town no longer qualifies for Rural Development grant money to help offset the costs.

Seth Maclean, the operations manager for the town’s Department of Public Works, said on Friday afternoon that it is in the process of researching and writing something called a qualification based selection, “so that we can find a qualified engineering firm to help us design the lagoon closure.”

He said it’s unclear when the project will go out to bid.  

Abby Kessler can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 234 or akessler@ledgertranscript.com.