Dredging firm heads to court over scuttled Beverly project

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JAIME CAMPOS/Staff photo

Posted June 18, 2020

A dredging barge situated along the confluence of the Bass and Danvers rivers in Beverly waits in December to begin dredging the Bass River. The project was later called off, and the contractor hired for the work, Burnham Associates, is suing the city. 

BEVERLY — A Salem company hired to dredge the Bass River last year — only to have the project be canceled at the last minute — has gone to court looking for money it says it's owed for setting up and taking down its equipment and for turning down other work.

Burnham Associates of Salem filed a suit in U.S. District Court in Boston last week asking the city of Beverly to pay them $1.2 million in damages for the scuttled project.

Burnham was chosen to receive the contract for $2.8 million by the city of Beverly last September. The long-delayed project was intended to improve the safety of fishing and pleasure boats using the river, which hasn't been dredged in more than 60 years.

The consulting firm hired by the city, GEI, and a predecessor firm, had conducted tests and submitted data to the Army Corps of Engineers, which had given the work the go-ahead.

"We relied on the permit approvals," Beverly Mayor Mike Cahill said. The city put out a request for proposals last summer and chose Burnham Associates.

The firm spent about $450,000 on setting up vessels and equipment and bringing in crew members, who then had to wait 17 days without starting work. When it became clear at the end of December that the project would not go forward, the firm spent another $300,000 removing the equipment.

But when Burnham began looking for the permit and other information they would need in order to dump the dredged material in an offshore area designated for that purpose, the Army Corps of Engineers took another look at the test data. That's when they realized that four of the samples tested above the EPA's limits for those substances — and that three were at levels considered potentially carcinogenic.

Because of that, the material cannot be placed in the designated area and will have to be taken elsewhere.

As a result the permit wasn't issued and the project had to be called off.

"I think to a certain extent my client is caught in the middle," Burnham Associates attorney David Smith said Monday.

Smith said the city breached its contract.

Cahill said the city relied on the experts it hired for the project. "There's not a lot I can say," he said.

He did acknowledge that the city is reviewing possible claims against other entities.

The two sides had been in mediation, Smith and Cahill both said. They have so far been unable to agree on a number.

The project was to have been paid for half by the city and half by the state.

But it's uncertain whether it will be able to go forward anytime soon, given anticipated additional costs of testing, handling and disposing of contaminated material, said the mayor.

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at jmanganis@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis.

Source: salemnews