By ED RUNYAN
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
WARREN -- This weekend's Newton Falls bicentennial celebration will have to carry on without one of the city's most notable landmarks: the covered bridge.
That's because the reconstruction project Trumbull County undertook last year on the bridge has been beset by construction delays and disputes between the county and the general contractor. Built in 1831 and located on Arlington Street, it is the second-oldest covered bridge in Ohio.
The project that was supposed to be finished by now is only 31 percent complete, said deputy county engineer Randy Smith.
County Engineer John Latell said Friday he hopes that by canceling the contract the county signed with the general contractor, BECDIR Construction of Berlin Center, the project can get back on track in time to protect it from winter weather.
The project completion date was pushed back from summer 2006 to December 2006. Officials are no longer predicting when it might be done. "Eventually we will see it completed," Latell said.
Commissioners Paul Heltzel and James Tsagaris met in special session Friday to pass a resolution to terminate the contract. Latell said he hopes the next step will be to get BECDIR's bonding company, Traveler's Casualty and Surety, to provide another contractor to finish the job.
Either way, Smith said, the bridge should be safe while the legal issues are worked out. When BECDIR stopped work on the project a couple of weeks ago, it was the second time the project had come to a halt.
In February, when the work was stopped the first time, plywood and tarps were used to protect the historic structure. If need be, the same thing could be done again, Smith said.
BECDIR started work on the $1 million restoration in July. The project was to replace the bridge's siding, roof, deck planking, floor beams, sidewalk members and 18 of the 78 truss diagonals, or timbers on the sides of the bridge.
The county and BECDIR disagreed early in the construction about additional materials BECDIR said were needed to complete the project. BECDIR President David DiRusso said termite damage and changes the county ordered had caused the renovations to be more extensive than first thought. Smith said he has seen no evidence of termite damage, however.
Work stopped in February. In May, the county agreed to a $212,000 change order. Work began again, but the parties disagreed over other issues in August and work stopped once more.
Letter to company
On Aug. 22, the engineer's office wrote BECDIR a letter giving the company 48 hours to resume work or face termination of the contract. The letter said BECDIR had failed to adequately address a gap in the deck chord (a horizontal member of a truss) of the bridge that corresponds with a sag in the middle and upper chords on one side of the bridge. The contract specifications said the bridge was to be restored "to its original as-built condition," the letter said.
DiRusso said Friday this disagreement centered on a "cosmetic" issue, adding that the engineer's office has been the one responsible for stopping the work.
DiRusso explained that he filed a lawsuit against the county commissioners in March in Franklin County Common Pleas Court because the county had paid only about $200,000 to the company -- even though it had done about $500,000 worth of work.