Delays in river sand removal project; clock ticking before nesting seasons

OCEANSIDE — Dredging the San Luis Rey River to reduce area flood risk could be on hold for another year. Right now there is no official word from the Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees the project, on whether dredging will be postponed until 2018.

The project has several significant benefits. Dredging built-up sediment increases the river flow capacity as well as provides beach-quality sand for the coastline.

The delay in starting the dredging is due to unresolved contract negotiations between the Army Corps of Engineers and the low-bid contractor awarded the job.

Details of the negotiations have not been shared.

“Right now the only information I have is that the contract is on hold,” Greg Fuderer, Army Corps of Engineers senior public affairs specialist, said.

Two weeks ago the Army Corps of Engineers prepared a modification to the scope of work, which reduced sediment removal from 230,000 cubic yards to 50,000 cubic years.

In response the low-bid contractor increased fees to an amount that exceeds funding limits for the project. City staff said there is no point in negotiating further.

“The bid amount almost doubled in price,” city staff said.

When asked why the fees increased, and if there were any changes in project funding, city staff deferred questions to the Army Corps of Engineers, which has not yet replied to The Coast News questions.

Kiel Koger, city public works director, said there remains a lot of uncertainty with the project.

City staff meets weekly with Army Corps of Engineers staff to stay abreast of the project. The city has been persistent in urging the Army Corps of Engineers to start the project.

During discussions city staff has suggested the Army Corps of Engineers require the contractor to start work under the initial bid. Army Corps of Engineers staff said this would create numerous costly change orders.

Another city suggestion was to cancel the low-bid contractor and hire the second lowest bidder to do the work.

The Army Corps of Engineers said the idea is not feasible due to the time required to process a new contract, and the limited work window that demands dredging stops in March.

City staff has expressed frustration over delays, and plans to send a formal letter of complaint to the Army Corps of Engineers.

“We are extremely frustrated over the Corps’ inability to get this project started after working on it for over two years,” Koger said.

River sand removal from Douglas Drive to Foussat Road was originally slated to start in 2016.

The delay last year was due to securing a needed permit. Once the permit was in hand, the Army Corps of Engineers promised dredging would begin in 2017, only to face new challenges this year.

The city also saw delays in 2016 harbor dredging, which was  overseen by the Army Corps of Engineers. The size of the dredging company and large ocean swells caused project completion to be postponed for months, and negatively impacted the summer tourist season.

Lessons learned from delayed harbor dredging resulted in more specific requirements for dredging companies including robust equipment, backup equipment and a date certain for completion prior to the summer tourist season.

Complications with river dredging may also spark new contract terms going forward.

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