North Side aldermen turn up the heat on water main contractor

SHARE North Side aldermen turn up the heat on water main contractor

Housing Committee Chairman Joe Moore (49th) (pictured in November 2015) said he’s all for the massive North Side water main reconstruction project. But it’s the way the North Side work has been carried out that has infuriated his constituents. | Sun-Times file photo

Exasperated North Side aldermen will hold a City Council hearing next week to turn up the heat on a city contractor they accuse of inconveniencing and endangering their residents with its slow and slipshod work.

NPL Construction is replacing North Side water mains from Addison to the city limits, under terms of a $92 million contract awarded by the city last year.

It’s part of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to replace century-old water mains by doubling water and sewer rates over a four-year period, followed by annual cost-of-living increases.

Housing Committee Chairman Joe Moore (49th) said he’s all for the massive reconstruction project. But it’s the way the North Side work has been carried out that has infuriated his constituents.

On Touhy Avenue between Western and Clark, Moore said it took NPL two weeks and repeated complaint calls to rectify a dangerous situation. And even now, piles of gravel and debris continue to litter side streets near the job site, Moore said.

“They had opened up the street . . . and did not seal it properly. So there were huge divots in the street that caused motorists to swerve into oncoming traffic to avoid the hazards,” Moore said. “I asked them if they could either put a plate over it or asphalt it to try to smooth that over. They assured me they would and, two weeks later it was still not done.”

Moore said he was so exasperated about the conditions he put the matter on the agenda for Tuesday’s Housing Committee hearing.

There, he hopes to “throw some cold water” on NPL and pressure Chief Procurement Officer Jamie Rhee to either fine the company or cancel the contract.

“Any time you do any kind of utility work — particularly sewer or water main installation — it’s gonna engender some complaints and inconvenience. But what they’ve done is beyond the pale. I’ve never in my 26 years felt I had no choice but to bring this to a hearing,” Moore said.

Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th), a Democratic candidate for governor, argued that water main replacement work that should have been completed in eight or 10 weeks has dragged on for as long as six months.

“Wilson Avenue, Lincoln Avenue and Clark Street are a dust bowl. I have bicyclists and pedestrians wearing handkerchiefs around their mouths so they don’t inhale the dust. We have giant craters in our streets on Lincoln Avenue,” Pawar said Wednesday.

“Their response to aldermen is to send their P.R. firm. Our response is, `We don’t need to communicate this differently. We just need you to finish the job and do it right and stop biting off more than you can chew.’ They open up multiple streets at the same time.”

NPL Construction is represented by attorney Mara Georges, who served as longtime corporation counsel under former Mayor Richard M. Daley.

Georges cited the company’s “exemplary” safety record. She touted a low bid that saved Chicago taxpayers $10 million and earmarked 70 percent of the work for minority vendors.

“NPL always does the finest work commensurate with all applicable safety standards. NPL is a very reputable contractor that has done work across the country. This is their first foray on a city contract,” Georges said. “We will certainly address any concerns to the best of our ability. When NPL hears of complaints about dust, they do temporary paving which is above and beyond what’s required in the contract.”

Georges openly acknowledged construction delays, but said they can’t be helped.

“NPL doesn’t control all the work going on at a particular site. They’re waiting on utility movement. They’ve got to wait on other vendors. They secure the site while waiting. But unfortunately, sometimes there are delays. It’s just the nature of the work,” she said.

According to Georges, the Department of Procurement Services has received no complaints about NPL, nor has the company been slapped with any “cure notices” for violations.

Before the water main replacement contract was awarded to NPL last year, Pawar said he joined Moore and Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) in urging Rhee to bypass the low-bidder and choose another company.

They were concerned about NPL after the company’s work to replace gas mains for Peoples Gas was, as Pawar put it, a “total disaster.”

Their complaints fell on deaf ears, setting the stage for Tuesday’s showdown.

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