Contractor’s mistake sinks city monies 

The city of San Mateo wants its money back from a contractor whose mistake nearly left plans for a Bay marshes boardwalk sinking in the mud.

Last year, a contractor was hired to build an $800,000, 340-foot boardwalk in the marshes near Tidelands Park south of Coyote Point, complete with benches and interpretive signs, as part of the city’s shoreline master plan project. In November, the contractor started driving in 20-foot concrete piles to support the boardwalk.

It didn’t take long to figure out there was a problem, said Dennis Frank, a landscape architect for the city.

"They were too short," he said. "They were going in real easy. Just the weight of the hammer was pushing those piles in."

Worried that the piles would keep sinking, officials spoke to their engineering subcontractor, Smith-Emery Geoservices, who said the mud simply needed to set for a while and then the piles would be stable. But one week later, when weight was again set on the piles, they sank even farther into the marsh.

A review of the plans revealed an important mistake: The piles should have been 60 feet, not 20 feet, Frank said. Officials from Smith-Emery said they had miscalculated, Frank said. He said the error put the city into a bind since state and federal agencies had set a Jan. 29 deadline for the boardwalks foundation to minimize impact to the marsh’s wildlife.

The City Council worked quickly to approve a $201,600 change-order for 60-foot steel piles, which were driven into the marsh last year.

City Attorney Shawn Mason didn’t want to comment on the situation in case it results in litigation, but he said once the project is completed, he will sit down with Smith-Emery representatives and ask them to reimburse the city for the extra costs. If necessary, he said, the city would consider going to court.

Last month, the rest of the foundation was completed, Frank said. The boardwalk should be completed by June, he said.

Smith-Emery Manager Patrick Morrison declined to comment.

kworth@examiner.com

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