Debris at fire station site reveals buried costs for Hilton Head

bheffernan@islandpacket.comAugust 7, 2013 

Buried debris at the site of a planned mid-island fire station could add as much as $375,000 in costs for the Town of Hilton Head Island.

Last month, a construction crew discovered soil at the site was riddled with chunks of asphalt and concrete, tree stumps and irrigation pipes, according to Scott Liggett, town director of public projects.

The debris is not contaminated, but about 6,500 cubic yards of the material must be cleared and replaced with new soil before the station can be built off Queens Folly Road, near the entrance to Palmetto Dunes, Liggett said.

The building would replace the Hilton Head Island Fire & Rescue Division's Station No. 6, which is near the site.

Town Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to pay Creative Structures Inc. as much as $375,000 to remove and replace the soil. The town had already approved paying the Knoxville, Tenn.-based contractor about $3 million to build the station.

He said he did not know whether the extra work would delay the project's expected completion in July 2014.

The town commissioned ECS Southeast LLC for a 2010 study of the site, and it found the soil suitable for the project, Liggett said.

Town Council directed staff to review whether the town has legal recourse to recoup part of the extra costs from ECS or Creative Structures.

"At minimum, I think we ought to explore whether that risk or exposure can be shared by all three parties, (ECS, Creative Structures and the town)," Councilman Bill Harkins said at Tuesday's meeting. "It just seems like we're taking the hit.

"We relied on (ECS) in terms of soil description and then conveyed that to the builder who then came up with a price to build it. It would seem to me that (ECS) has a great responsibility here."

Liggett said that might not be the case.

He said the geotechnical engineering firm drilled "a half-dozen or more test holes" and could have done the soil sampling correctly, but didn't happen to dig where the debris was. Liggett said the debris' distribution is heavy, but sporadic.

Geotechnical studies provide a sense of the soil conditions, not an inventory of what's below the surface, Liggett said.

Attempts Wednesday and Thursday to reach ECS officials were unsuccessful.

Money to pay for the extra work could come from hospitality-tax revenue or from other projects, Liggett said.

Councilman George Williams said he would like to consider alternatives before "whacking other hospitality projects."

The 11,500-square-foot station would be built on a 16.87-acre parcel the town purchased in 2001 from the Greenwood Development Corp. for $4.15 million.

Liggett said it appears the previous owners had dumped the debris there, then covered it with dirt.

The buried debris must be removed because organic material, such as the tree stumps, will decompose, which could make the soil settle under the building and cause cracks in the foundation and walls, Liggett said.

"If your foundation is unstable, it can have significant impacts throughout the building," he said.

Follow reporter Brian Heffernan at twitter.com/IPBG_Brian.

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