Engineering Mistakes Irk Worcester Officials

SMNOW HILL — A pair of engineering miscalculations over the last month drew harsh criticism from the Worcester County Commissioners Tuesday.

According to Public Works Director John Tustin, however, the incidents were minor and isolated and no cause for undue concern.

During Tuesday’s commission meeting, Tustin informed the council that J.W. Salm Engineering, an engineering firm the county contracted for work on an Ocean Pines/Glen Riddle Interconnect Project, made a calculation error of 200 linear feet, estimating that a waterline needed to stretch 1,500 feet, when in reality it was 1,700 feet. At $133 per linear foot, an additional charge of $23,690.38 was tacked on to the project. The cost could have been more, but Dixie Construction, the developer handling the labor, waived its 10 percent subcontractor markup as a “good faith effort.”

Tustin explained that despite the original calculation, the “linear footage is what it is” and the commission didn’t have many options besides paying for the additional 200 feet. The extra cost didn’t seem to faze the commissioners as much as the fact that the estimation was off by 200 feet.

“How do you miss something by that many feet?” asked Commissioner Virgil Shockley. “That’s the shock about the whole thing.”

Commissioner Louise Gulyas agreed, wondering why the engineers were not accountable for their mistake.

“I’m surprised there isn’t some kind of penalty … They should have rectified it. They should have made it right,” she said.

Commissioner Madison Bunting seconded the idea that the engineers need to be more accountable. Both Gulyas and Shockley also questioned whether the county should work with the engineers responsible again.

“If they blow something this bad, I’m not sure I want them again,” said Shockley.

Some of the commission’s irritation likely spilled over from a similar incident earlier this month when a different firm, GW Stephens, made an error while reviewing a new service road that connects to Route 50. Tustin explained that the firm used a “wrong conversion factor” when surveying the road, which resulted in a miscalculation.

Both the mistake with the service road and the incorrect estimation on the Glen Riddle project were not par for the course with either company, according to Tustin. He asserted that both were “very good firms” that the county has used in the past.

“We’ve been very pleased with their work,” he said of both companies.