North Miami

Contractors at Biscayne Landing development blame each other for spill

Almost one million gallons of water mixed with ammonia leaked at the Biscayne Landing development site after a pump station pipe ruptured during Labor Day weekend. It has since been fixed and is now running smoothly, but the subcontractor who installed the pipe was paid $700,000 before being fired.

According to North Miami City Manager Stephen Johnson, the Environmental Protection Agency determined there was no immediate threat from the 807,000 gallons of water, containing 32 milligrams of ammonia for every gallon of water. The EPA’s determination means local environmental agencies are able to handle the cleanup and whatever else may come as a result. The 800,000 gallons is about one percent of the total amount of water pumped out of the area since July.

“We’re now in process of evaluating the damages of the spill,” said Joe Celestin, the city’s Biscayne Landing site manager. “If there were damages we would propose a remediation system, but at this time we don’t have reason to concern.”

He said tests are being done on the mangroves and the water quality.

Tom McSweeney, head of CH2MHill the main contractor for the groundwater cleaning system that uses the pump station, said this is a “non-issue.”

“We had no negative feedback from the agencies that came out and looked at the site,” McSweeney said Wednesday. “We’re in the process of collecting close-out reports.”

Celestin said the spill was just an accident and that CH2MHill did their due diligence by contacting all the required agencies and organizations for such a spill: City officials, the EPA, the County’s Regulatory and Economic Resources Department and 10 other agencies.

While IMECO is no longer the subcontractor, they were still paid $700,000 for the work they did.

“There’s still more work to be done, that’s why he didn’t get the remaining 10 percent,” said McSweeney, of the roughly $800,000 contract.

Johnson said contractors select and pay their own subcontractors.

It isn’t quite clear who caused the spill.

IMECO, a company established in June 2011, built the groundwater cleaning system as CH2MHill designed it, said Faustin Denis, general manager of IMECO. But according to Celestin, the design called fore a plastic pipe in the pump station instead of a metal one. Celestin said he knew that was a problem since the station began operation in June.

“I knew from day one that the pipe was not doable and I asked them to modify their design,” Celestin said.

The plastic pipe was not strong enough to withstand the high pressure of the water being extracted, combined with the high heat and the number of hours it operated.

It burst on Sept. 2, but an order was made to replace the plastic pipe with a metal one in early August, both Celestin and Denis said.

“In writing I sent a change order dated Aug. 9,” Denis said to the Miami Herald on Wednesday.

According to Celestin, action was not taken fast enough.

“I ordered them to remove that pipe before it exploded,” he said. “They were in the process of replacing but it already exploded.”

Although Celestin and Denis say CH2MHill took too long in replacing the pipe, McSweeney is pointing his finger at IMECO saying the pipe was not put in place properly and that Denis knew about it.

“Our team designed the system, and they installed it per our design, but to their own admission they did not install the pipe connection properly,” McSweeney said and added that Denis made a statement owning up to the mistake to CH2MHill’s management team at the site.

“Our design is functioning properly, it’s that one connection that IMECO did not install properly that caused the spill,” he said.

The city did not select IMECO as the subcontractor, but rather CH2MHill awarded them the subcontract after a competitive bidding process. The city has no authority in who their main contractor selects, according to Johnson.

“Our contract is with them,” Johnson said. “We don’t control who they use.”

Celestin defended IMECO for the spill.

“The problem is not them, they had to do what CH2MHill designed, and therefore they are required to build it the way it’s designed,” he said.

However, this is not the first time IMECO has been mentioned in North Miami.

The City Council voted 4-1 during an October 2012 meeting to award IMECO $270,000 for a streetscaping project.

John Denis, owner of IMECO, listed his brother Faustin as the general manager of the project in his application to the city, but Faustin was awaiting trial for charges of racketeering and organized fraud connected to an alleged Opa-locka kickback scheme. Faustin Denis was arrested in 2009.

Among the allegations he faced was that he paid Opa-locka Commissioner Timothy Holmes in exchange for the commissioner’s support of his company APAC’s work in the city. Investigators said the firm "enjoyed a virtual monopoly on the city’s public-works projects."

The case is still awaiting trial.

Holmes has denied any wrongdoing.

Celestin was in favor of awarding the contract to IMECO in 2012.

"Faustin Denis is a man I respect and a friend of mine. Until he’s proven guilty, I will not judge," he said at the time.

In 2008, Denis was charged with a misdemeanor for violating an environmental permit. Prosecutors later dropped the charges.

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