Bucksport councilors agree to pay contractor to settle dispute about dock work

Posted Dec. 24, 2012, at 3:27 p.m.

BUCKSPORT, Maine — The Town Council has agreed to pay a Woolwich contractor to settle a dispute and avoid a potentially more costly legal battle concerning work done to the municipal pier.

According to the proposed settlement agreement, the town will pay Atlantic Mechanicals Inc. $4,250 to put the issue behind them and move on. The company had asked for more than $9,000.

The settlement was discussed during an executive session of the council’s Dec. 13 meeting, and was approved unanimously. Councilor Byron Vinton said Monday that the deal was hashed out between the town’s and company’s attorneys, and presented to the council for its approval.

“The attorneys got together and did their attorney thing,” he said. “They came up with that and came to us. We approved it, so my understanding is it’s a done deal.”

Efforts on Monday to contact Ruesch and Lawrence Paul, president of Atlantic Mechanical, were unsuccessful.

The company was contracted to prepare and paint the steel pilings at the municipal pier in the fall of 2011. The paint job was supposed to be good for years, according to Town Manager Michael Brennan, but instead lasted just months before it began peeling away.

Bucksport blamed Atlantic Mechanical and withheld payment, while the company said its employees followed the specifications provided by the town. The company claimed that if those specifications were unsuited to the job, it wasn’t Atlantic Mechanical’s fault.

In November, A. Robert Ruesch — a Portland attorney representing the Woolwich company — sent Brennan a letter demanding payment for the contract balance of about $9,400 plus interest, legal fees and penalties. The company threatened to sue the town if an agreement wasn’t reached.

The deal is all but done, Brennan said Monday. All that’s left to do now is file the paperwork and pay the bill.

“We anticipate both sides will settle on this, we’re just waiting for the official signatures from everybody,” he said.

Left unresolved is how Bucksport will repair the pilings. A coat of paint with some integrity is required to protect the steel from the elements, Brennan said. But the settlement with Atlantic Mechanical includes “no admission of liability” from either side. Brennan said that means the town will end up paying out-of-pocket to get the job done.

That’s a hard pill to swallow for some in town, because the original job was paid for with grant money. Brennan said the expense now will be paid for by the town.

“We’re going to have to repair the pilings, repaint them,” Brennan said. “There’s no structural damage yet, but the paint acts as a protectant, so it can’t go for too long. We want to maintain its long-term quality.”

Vinton said that while the town may have to absorb the cost of repairing the pilings, the decision to settle the account with Atlantic Mechanical was financially prudent.

“We weren’t happy with it, but it would have cost a great deal more than that to have fought,” he said. “Even if we had been successful, it would have been far more expensive to continue it. This was the best answer to a bad situation.”

Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.

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