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Port Arthur councilmembers putting heat on contractors over unfinished projects

Port Arthur City Councilmembers sent a message to contractors who they say have taken more time on city projects than necessary without facing a penalty.

The council this week tabled a resolution that would have given Elite Contractors & Equipment Ltd. of Kirbyville a 30-day extension on its contract with the city for the 60th Street improvement project from West Port Arthur Road to Canal Street.

The contract expired July 21, and the resolution would have extended the contract to Aug. 20, two days after the council’s next scheduled meeting.

“They get the contract, and they’ve got to be doing other jobs, because if they were actually doing it, it doesn’t take that long to do these streets or any of the streets,” said District 4 Councilman Harold Doucet, who pulled the proposed resolution from the consent agenda for discussion.

“I’m not going to tell them when to work, but I’ve been following this one for the longest. We, at some point, have to understand that they signed the contract and they read the contract just like us. So, therefore, they send us a letter stating they need an extension because of COVID-19. No, they’re using COVID-19 for an excuse. They don’t work, and they haven’t made any effort to continue working on it.”

But T.J. Pilgrim, project manager with Elite Contractors, said the project has been “substantially completed.”

“Traffic has been open on it for quite some time,” Pilgrim said. “It’s been open for approximately two months. There’s been some miscellaneous work on driveways and other stuff.”

Pilgrim added grass outlying 60th Street will be planted next week.

Elite Contractors was awarded a $775,500 contract for 288 calendar days on Aug. 13, 2019, but the 288 days would have begun Oct. 7, 2019, with a July 21, 2020, deadline. In a memorandum to the council from Public Works Director Alberto Elefaño, the contractor suspended construction due to the coronavirus pandemic on March 30, resumed work on April 6 with a skeleton crew that “was not able to perform and/or meet benchmarks established,” and reassembled a full crew on May 4.

Contract manager Arceneaux Wilson & Cole requested the extension in a letter to Elefaño dated June 23. The request would not affect the value of the contract.

Still, councilmembers are pushing for more financial penalties to be assessed to limit contract extensions.

“We need to improve on this because time after time, contractors are coming back to us wanting extensions, and that’s costly. That’s a cost,” District 3 Councilman Thomas Kinlaw III said. “If we do what we have to do and pay a certain amount of monies to get started on these projects and they don’t complete it on these completion dates, a penalty should be enforced. Like Doucet said, we need to start enforcing our penalties against these contractors, and I guarantee you we’ll start getting stuff done.”

Mayor Pro Tem Charlotte Moses suggested a city representative should oversee similar projects being completed within the contract time limit. Doucet recommended Elefaño for the job and asked for a report on 60th Street and other ongoing projects for the Aug. 18 regular meeting.

“People continue to work,” Moses said. “I just don’t want people to keep laying on COVID-19. I know we’re in a pandemic. I know it’s a disease, but people still are working and doing things. I don’t know why we’re not watching this until it’s a problem.”

Pilgrim was not concerned his company would be penalized.

“When there’s a declaration of emergency — in this case, for the coronavirus — we can claim days for that,” said Pilgrim, who counted 35 days Elite Contractors could claim.

About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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