CHATHAM — In news that causes town officials plenty of dismay but little surprise, the contractor replacing the observation deck at the fish pier has missed the final project deadline.
After multiple delays and change orders, Sciaba Construction Corp. and the town agreed on a final extension of the project completion date of Oct. 16. As of press time, it was clear that the deadline would be missed. Health and Natural Resources Director Robert Duncanson said a weekly progress meeting with the contractor is scheduled for Thursday.
“The schedule will be a topic of discussion,” he said.
As of late last week, work on the deck had stalled after several days of visible progress. Decking is complete on the south side of the packing house building, and about halfway up the east side—but had not yet begun on the north side. Duncanson was asked whether the special outdoor elevator had yet been delivered to the site.
“We have been asking that question for, dare I say, weeks,” he said. As of early this week, the concrete underpinnings of the deck were all in place on the north side and large steel beams lay on the ground, but progress had slowed.
The $1.4 million project was originally slated to be complete by Memorial Day, with the goal of having the deck open to visitors this summer while getting construction equipment off-site before the busy summer fishing season. Thanks to delays blamed on weather and unforeseen construction challenges at the packing house, the deadline was pushed back several times to Labor Day. Town officials and those who work at the fish pier report that the contractor had very few employees working at any given time for much of that period.
Work seemed to accelerate after the town and the contractor settled on an Oct. 16 deadline, but progress was not fast enough.
“If they don’t meet the Oct. 16 deadline, then there’s two options available to the town,” Duncanson said. “Liquidated damages could start to kick in, or the town could find the contractor in default.” Neither option is attractive, and town counsel is deliberating the best course of action, he said.
While Sciaba had claimed that previous target dates announced by town officials were not mutually-agreed-upon deadlines, the Oct. 16 date was ironclad, Duncanson said.
“It’s contractual,” he said. “Everything was all signed off.”
At the Oct. 7 selectmen’s meeting, resident Elaine Gibbs asked the board to schedule an update on the fish pier project.
“It’s pretty clear the contractors are not going to meet the Oct. 16 sign-off deadline,” she said. Gibbs said some of the workers are using the south side of the newly-built deck for cutting deck planks and railing posts “within feet of the water and fishing boats unloading.” That practice threatens to contaminate unloaded fish with sawdust and debris, she suggested. “I’m not sure why it’s been allowed to this point, but it doesn’t appear any safety containment measures to prevent pollution escaping, not only onto the boat but into the waterways,” Gibbs said.
The observation deck is one of the town's most popular tourist attractions, drawing thousands daily during the summer to watch fishermen offload their boats, and to see the seals. Because of the construction work, visitors have been crowded into a small area on the north jog, and through the summer, the town has had to pay for police details or harbormaster staff to control traffic.