Oakgate: County Says ‘No Double Billing’ Occurred

By Patric Hedlund and Gary Meyer

“It gets worse before it gets even worse,” is the way one local pundit summarized the questions that continue to be raised about what appears to be inadequate project management at the Frazier Park Library construction site.

For years the public has been excited about the anticipated new library facility, but on June 12 county crews took chain saws to two 300-400 year old heritage oaks without warning at 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning.

Since then, Mountain Community residents have expressed dismay about the manner in which the contractor, Tilton Pacific Construction, and the Kern County Construction Services Department have implemented the project.

The community had been promised the heritage oaks on the site would be preserved, and the architect’s plans duly provided careful instruction about how to care for them in a document labelled LPD-1, which was included in Tilton Pacific’s contract.

We printed those stipulations in last week’s paper (they are still available on our website).

For nine months the construction company had been operating in breach of their contract, with no apparent effort by the Kern County Department of Construction Services to enforce the contract stipulations to protect the trees.

Tilton Pacific’s failure to comply with the requirements of their contract to provide tree fences five feet outside of the drip line of the heritage oaks led to graders severing the roots of the oak trees, which in turn led an arborist to report that the trees had been “mutilated,” in direct contradiction to the architect’s orders.

We questioned whether a change order presented by the Construction Services Department and approved by the County Board of Supervisors on August 24 for $70,014 without a question by any member of the board of supervisors represents double billing by the construction company.

The August 24 Change Order No. 4 asked for $9,968 to remove the stumps for the trees they had destroyed by not following the LPD-1 instructions, and $60,046 to do the oak protection work which was already encompassed within the scope of the original contract, but which the company had not delivered as agreed.

In July, through Change Order No. 3, Tilton Pacific had already been paid $1,104 to remove the stumps of the trees they had killed by failing to perform according to their $4 million contract.

On Monday, Aug. 30 Supervisor Ray Watson telephoned The Mountain Enterprise to say that Kern County General Services Department would be providing a response to our August 27 report about the approval of additional payments to contractor Tilton Pacific, and to express dismay at what he views as unfounded criticism of the county’s project management.

“The Tree Protection Notes say clearly that the contractor is required to perform one or the other, either fencing around the trees or the use of temporary mulch, not both,” he said. Watson maintains there was no double billing because it was the county that requested what he characterized as “extra work.”

On August 31, Kern County Construction Services Director Mark Russell wrote a response to The Mountain Enterprise stating there was no double billing because, as Watson had said the day before, “the contractor was not required to provide both fencing and mulching.”

No mention was made of the fact that the company had done neither of those things for nine months, until their breach of contract had killed two heritage oaks.

Russell also offered quotes from safety regulations as further evidence that the billing was appropriate. The significance of the safety regulations is unknown at this time.

Architect Max Williams said in a response sent to the newspaper that the county was wrong to approve an extra $70,000 in payments to contractor Tilton Pacific. He details the reasons in a two-page letter citing normal low-bid contract management procedures and stating in detail the breach of contract and lack of competent management standards that led to the destruction of the community’s oaks.

Resident Linda Robredo of Frazier Park wrote Kern County this week. “[On August 31] it has been 80 days since our heritage Valley oak trees…were killed at the new Frazier Park library work site.”

She complains that the promises made to the public after a heated public meeting with county officials and Supervisor Ray Watson’s appointed Municipal Advisory Council (MAC) on June 15 have not been delivered.

“Delay, decoy, and deception does not make our community happy and reflects on the lack of effectiveness of the MAC,” Robredo said.

This is part of the September 03, 2010 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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