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LISTEN NOW: Commissioner: 'We've been smacked around' on Stegall Project

LISTEN NOW: Commissioner: 'We've been smacked around' on Stegall Project

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Scotts Bluff County Commissioners on Stegall Road Project April 19, 2021

Scotts Bluff County Commissioners are standing by the Stegall Road project.

Ken Meyer, chair of the Scotts Bluff County Commissioners, addressed the commissioner’s stance on the project during Monday’s meeting. He complained that the commissioners “had taken a beating” in reporting on the project, which saw changes from the plans designed and recommended by engineers. Meyer said that reporting had “misled as to what’s really been happening” regarding the project.

At the meeting, the commissioners approved a $1.67 million bid to repave 5 miles of Stegall Road. The road was last repaved in the 1970s.

That bid involved a fabric reinforcement layer, a non-woven fabric with fiberglass filament yarn that adds a waterproof layer under asphalt designed to prevent extensive cracking.

According to discussions found to be occurring in emails, via phone calls and referred to at Scotts Bluff County Commissioner’s meetings since the project had been bid, commissioners, namely Russ Reisig and Mark Reichert, had already been working with Simons Contractors to reduce the costs on the project. Simons Contractors proposed reducing the costs by changing the fabric reinforcement layer recommended by engineers.

Two options were recommended to cut costs. Commissioners selected an option using a product called FiberMat, a product associated with Simons Contractors, which lowered the costs by $188,000. Engineers with MC Schaff suggested another lower cost option, which would have saved $320,000, and did not appear to have been seriously considered by commissioners.

“The issue that I’m having is that nobody’s really talked about that, that much, as to why we don’t want it (the original underlayment),” Meyer said Monday. “So I’m going to lay it out: That it’s non-recyclable, and it’s expensive, and by looking at an alternative we’re going to save some money.”

However, a great deal of discussion has been held about whether or not the change of the underlayment has affected the quality of the project. During commissioners meetings in March and April, Scotts Bluff County Highway Superintendent Linda Grummert and engineers repeatedly expressed concerns with the changes to the project. Grummert and engineers, backed by opinions from Nebraska Department of Transportation and Missouri Department of Transportation officials, questioned the effectiveness of the project. Some of the questioning of the effectiveness of the product is due to the current condition of Stegall Road and that the FiberMat product is used for repair projects, according to Department of Transportation officials, such as patching rather than paving products.

Information presented by Grummert and engineers has also outlined that the product does not increase the load-bearing capacity of the roadway — called tensile strength — which had been a requirement under the original scope of the project as a rehabilitation project, and that the life of the roadway is reduced. Engineers estimated the change will reduce the lifespan of the roadway by seven to 10 years and that upkeep costs could also be increased.

The disagreements have even become so contentious that Grummert has been called insubordinate, which the Star-Herald learned after submitting a request for emails. At a meeting earlier this month, commissioner Mark Harris chastised Grummert for not having the interests of the county in mind by continuing to assert that the proposed project was not of the same quality as the project originally bid.

The disagreements about the project also led to MC Schaff not continuing on the project. Commissioners, who had been upset that MC Schaff would not continue into the construction phase of the project, had earlier indicated that they wanted to hear from Dave Schaff, MC Shaff vice president. Harris, who had agreed to reach out to Schaff, said he had spoken to the engineer to clarify his position. Schaff, after back-and-forth with commissioners, had agreed to develop a change order after MC Schaff had developed its own technical specs. Harris said that Schaff had agreed to do the change order, but he never expressed, and did not intend for that to be interpreted as his approval of changes to the project.

Meyer said that the board was doing it’s job in questioning Grummert, the engineers and were listening to “the experts” — as he referred to the contractors — in making its changes. He said that the board was not “rubber stampers” or “bobbleheads.”

“...We’re not going to be beat up about all of the things that we’ve talked about,” Meyer said. “...We’ve already made that decision. We’re going to move forward with it. But, I think, people understand that again, this board would not put an inferior product down on a roadway. It’s not going to happen.”

Commissioner Charlie Knapper made comments in support of Meyer and the Stegall Road project.

Meyer, and Reisig, said that some constituents have contacted them praising them for saving money on the project. During the meeting, one man, Robert Busch, who frequently attends the meetings and voices his opinions at different intervals outside of the public comment period, called the current commissioners “one of the best” that has served.

Meyer also referred to the Star-Herald’s request in March for emails exchanged among county officials on the Stegall Road project, saying that commissioners have now had to change the way that they communicate after the Star-Herald questioned the discussion of county business via email as being in violation of the Open Meetings Act.

He said that commissioners have been examining emails as well — which appeared to be a reference to examining employee’s emails. During Monday’s meeting, commissioners did go into an executive session on personnel issue — which were not specified on the agenda — for more than an hour. Scotts Bluff County Attorney Dave Eubanks, Human Resources Officer Lisa Rein and Kyle Long, a Scottsbluff attorney, were present during the meeting. Due to the vagueness of the agenda, it is not clear if the executive session was related.

Full audio of commissioners’ comments is available on starherald.com.

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