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State appellate court upholds King County damages award

Summary

On Monday, the Washington State Court of Appeals affirmed a 2012 jury verdict awarding King County $144 million in damages and attorney’s fees after finding a Brightwater tunneling contractor defaulted on key contractual obligations.

Story

The Washington State Court of Appeals affirmed a 2012 King County trial court judgment that Brightwater tunneling contractor Vinci Construction Grands Projets/Parsons RCI/Frontier-Kemper (VPFK) was liable to King County for $144 million in damages and attorney’s fees.

"This again validates our position that the contractor bore responsibility for Brightwater project delays and cost overruns,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine, who made the decision to hire a second contractor to finish part of VPFK’s work soon after taking office in 2009. “The damages award, now affirmed, has provided relief to ratepayers, tempering rate increases and reducing borrowing needs for other projects.”

In addition to upholding the 2012 jury verdict, the appellate court also upheld the trial court’s ruling that granted King County an additional $14 million in attorney fees.
 
King County was the plaintiff in the lawsuit filed in 2010 in King County Superior Court against joint-venture contractor Vinci Construction Grands Projets/Parsons RCI/Frontier-Kemper, or VPFK.

The County claimed VPFK failed to meet contractually-specified deadlines after two tunnel boring machines broke down several hundred feet beneath Lake Forest Park and Bothell in 2009.

The machines required extensive repairs that threatened to delay the completion of Brightwater’s 13-mile conveyance tunnel by up to three years.

Though VPFK repaired one machine and completed a 2.2-mile tunnel drive between Kenmore and Bothell in 2011, the County could not accept the lengthy delay and additional cost the contractor proposed for the repair of the second machine and the completion of the tunneling.

The County hired joint-venture contractor Jay Dee Coluccio, or JDC, to complete the remaining 1.9-mile tunnel between Shoreline and Lake Forest Park. JDC already had a machine underground after completing the adjacent 4-mile tunnel between Point Wells and Shoreline.  

To recover costs associated with project delays and design modifications, King County sought approximately $156 million from VPFK and its sureties.

VPFK counterclaimed for approximately $70 million, saying its delays were excused by unexpected soil conditions and other circumstances that were the County’s responsibility. King County acknowledged some of the claims totaling about $4.7 million were valid. The 2012 jury granted some of VPFK’s counter-claims in the amount of approximately $26 million.

VPFK was awarded the $212 million construction contract to build the two central Brightwater conveyance tunnels following a competitive bidding process in 2006. It was the second of four Brightwater construction contracts that built a 13-mile tunnel to carry wastewater from the treatment plant north of Woodinville to a deep-water marine outfall in Puget Sound off of Point Wells. 

The original contract scope entailed building two deep-bore tunnels with a combined length of approximately six miles between Shoreline and Bothell. Contractor JDC completed mining on the final 1.9-mile section of the Brightwater tunnel in August 2011.

The tunnel began full operation on Nov. 2, 2012, conveying the first flows of highly treated effluent from the Brightwater Treatment Plant north of Woodinville to a 600-foot-deep marine outfall in Puget Sound a mile off of Point Wells.

Additional information about the Brightwater project is available at www.kingcounty.gov/brightwater.