The newly rebuilt observation deck at the Chatham Fish Pier is certainly an improvement over its predecessor. Solidly built, spacious, attractive and made of more durable material than the previous wooden deck (situated in one of the harshest environments one can imagine), it will no doubt weather storms, sun and salt spray for years, hopefully decades, to come.
But getting to the point of opening the deck to the public last Thursday was, to say the least, a slog.
Briefly: The contract was awarded in December 2018; work was supposed to begin that January, but didn't start until March. Memorial Day was the target for completion, in time for the start of the summer season, when throngs of tourists would be heading to the pier to watch fishing boats unload and seals swim in Aunt Lydia's Cove. That didn't happen. July 4 came and went with no deck. The summer passed, then the fall, then another winter. Finally, in time for last weekend's holiday, with no fanfare, plastic blocking the stairs was removed and the deck was open.
It may take just as long to apportion responsibility for this fiasco, the sort of public works project that plays to the skepticism of government critics. Certainly weather delays factored in at the start. Once the portion of the work involving replacement of underground fuel tanks was largely completed, however, little, if any, work began on the actual deck for a long period. And when it did, few were the occasions when there were more than a handful of workers on site; often, there were just one or two. With some exceptions, that seemed to be the case for most of the project.
Contractor Sciaba Construction Corp. places responsibility for the delays to scheduling issues and change orders engendered by the town. The town's decision to seek “liquidated damages,” or fines, was improper, the company claims; it should be the one seeking damages for the delays. Working around fishermen and tourists was something the company hadn't anticipated and, together with the complexity of the project, contributed to the extended work schedule, a company spokesman said.
Certainly, there seemed to be a communication issue between the town and Sciaba. It's hard to imagine the company had no idea of the fish pier environment — one of the town's biggest tourist attractions, a working industrial facility — when bidding on a $1.6 million project (which climbed to $1.7 million with subsequent change orders). Perhaps the town didn't make their priorities clear enough. Sciaba says if a settlement can't be reached, the dispute will head to court. It would behoove both parties — the contractor to clear the project and get final payment, the town to avoid a protracted and expensive court battle — to get together and negotiate over the outstanding issues, including the liquidated damages. And a post-mortem by town officials to drill down into how this project went so far off the rails, being honest and looking at its own internal processes that may have gone awry, is certainly called for. A full public report should follow. And we shouldn't have to wait 18 months.