We got up close and personal with The Pier. It was not a pretty picture. You had no idea how much steel has to be removed.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  November 7, 2011  The city took a slew of media people out onto the Pier and gave us all time to wander about and have a look at just what it looked like up close.  There were a number of politicians along – The Lady Jane, our freshly minted MPP, Jane McKenna, who now gets a bit more than $1500. each year to drive from Burlington to Queen’s Park, where she will work on our behalf, was on hand wearing two right-footed work boots, which we thought might have been a political statement.  Ward 6 Councillor Blair Lancaster was also on hand but not wearing her delightful pink work boots.  “They give me blisters” she explained, “unless I wear thick socks”.

It was a bit of an experience to walk out on the Pier.  While very clearly a construction site, what was noticed immediately was that the “instant beach” that has formed on the west side of The Pier at the edge of the breakwater, has grown considerably since we last saw the site.  This is where the city wants to, at some point in the future, put in something in the way of a boat dock. We just might have more beach to work with than we thought we’d have.

The Pier as it stands today has three parts. The trestle to the right which is used for construction purposes and will come out when the work is completed. The round section in the lower left of this picture, which is built above land. The rest, that large S shaped section that reaches out into the lake - every inch of that steel has to be taken out. The caissons the S shape rests on are embedded five metres into the lakebed and are solid and do not have to be replaced.

What had not been made clear to the public, and I have followed this issue for some time, is the amount of steel that has to be taken out and trucked off the site into storage somewhere. Basically all the steel is going to be taken out.  That was never really made clear during the many council committee sessions or in the 10 Pier Update releases the city has put out since this mess came to the surface.

What the city is faced with is replacing all the steel that has been put in place.  The only things being kept are the caissons (those are the big round pipes that have been driven five metres into the  lake bed.  All the steel, ALL the steel that has been put in place is being taken out and placed in storage, while the lawyers work through the legal difference of opinion.

And that is what the legal fight is all about – the steel used for the construction of the site was not what was needed but that didn’t become evident until the crane accident.  Can’t blame the contractor for that one – he didn’t specify the steel, he just built to plans he was given.  Architects and structural engineers do all the designing and planning at work and they sign off on that.  So the goof was at the architect and design levels.  We have been saying the contractor walked off the job – think I can understand why he walked.  He couldn’t build a Pier based on the plans he was given.  Quite why the original contractor didn’t do the level of due diligence that would have revealed the problems is something we don’t understand.  This is probably something the contractor will regret for some time.  But we think it will become clear that the city issued a call for bids and gave the contractors drawings that called for steel that proved to be unsuitable.

In the illustrations you can see just how much steel is involved – basically ALL of it.

The problems were not the making of the current Council.  They approved a contract that involved plans that had been prepared and signed off on by professional architects and engineers.

Should the city engineers have taken a closer look at the drawings they issued?  The designers and the structural engineers signed off on the plans – is that where the city’s responsibility ends? Someone, somewhere at the design level really screwed up on this – and that will get worked out by the lawyers.  However, you the public may never know just what happened.  The city doesn’t care if we know what happened – what it want to do is recover as much of the money that has been spent as possible.  This project was supposed to cost $9.2 million in 2010.  Graham Infrastructure, the firm hired by the city to complete the Pier, is being paid $5.9 million.  Other costs total $8.4 but we’ve not learned yet what the legal bill for all this is going to amount to – but know this; it is not going to be a small bill that will get paid out of petty cash.

The "instant beach", a natural formation of sand that was formed as a result of the currents around the Pier is a gift from Mother Nature. It is now twice the size of what is shown in this photograph and just might grow to be even larger. Plans to put some kind of boat docking in place are in the thinking stage.

City council will not even go along with saying how much they have spent to date – they claim that would reveal their legal strategy to the people they are suing.  The people the city is suing already know the strategy – a claim has been made.   Some Council members talk in terms of recovering some of the additional money they have had to spend.  Given what they have known since last December that was irresponsible.  The city would like to recover as much of that money as possible.  Don’t think they’re going to get what they were hoping for.

The engineers and architects that screwed up don’t want you to know what they did wrong either.  This will get dragged out for as long as the people the city is suing can drag it out – but when it comes down to the short strokes the people we are suing will settle.  Just hope that the city stands tough and gets as much as they can for the damage done to our reputation.

Where does all this leave Harm Schilthuis and Sons Ltd., the original contractor?  They are between a rock and a hard place.  All they did was attempt to build on plans the city provided.  They may find a judge deciding the contractor should have taken a much closer look at those plans but if your doctor gives you a prescription you assume that he knows what he’s doing – after all he is a doctor.  A judge might also decide that the city bears some responsibility for giving out plans for a Pier that in effect could not be built.  Had that crane not fallen over we perhaps would never have known about the deficient quality of the steel. That’s something the courts will work out – but methinks that  Harm Schilthuis and Sons Ltd. has been had – to some degree due to a bit of negligence on their part, they should have perhaps checked those plans a little more closely.

The structural problem, according to reported comments city engineer Tom Eichenbaum made, came to the surface when the city hired a materials testing firm to do an analysis of the steel. Eichenbaum is reported to have said: “Through forensic destructive testing, they were able to chop up beams and do some testing on the actual metal content …there was enough concern that it may not meet the long term strength requirements”.  That steel certainly didn’t meet the requirement when the crane toppled over.

Now we understand why the Harm Schilthuis and Sons Ltd. insurance company came back with a proposal to re-do the deal.  The city didn’t buy the deal (although we’ve no idea what the deal offered was, because the city’s legal department keep the kimono on that matter tightly closed).

As for The Pier – it is going to be, in the words of  Director of Engineering Tom Eichenbaum, “fantastic”.  During his comments, while we were all out on The Pier, Eichenbaum mentioned  there was “going to be 150 LED lights spread out along the Pier, which will be quite a site from the Skyway bridge”.  “It will” said Eichenbaum, “define a part of the Burlington shoreline.”

The 150 LED lights that will go on the Pier will be powered by the small wind turbine that is part of the structure. City engineers expect the Pier to be quite a sight from the SkyWay bridge at night. They will define the look of the city's shore line.

Marianne Meed Ward took part in some of the tour – the Mayor was there for the full Monty but the other council members took a pass.  They didn’t need to see the site – they had already seen it – last December when it was a lot colder than last Friday afternoon.  But on that cold December day every member of your council knew exactly how much of the steel had to be taken out – ALL of it.  But they didn’t pass that fact along to their constituents.

Will it all come out in the wash – yes but that wash will never get hung out to dry.  The city will settle with the architects and the general contractor and the insurance company and the  agreement will include a gag order which will prevent you from ever knowing all the facts.

It is nevertheless going to be quite a thing to see.  It will make a big difference to the shoreline and the way Burlington sees itself.  But we will have paid far more than we should have to get that Pier built.  That isn’t something the current Council did but there are three members of this Council – Craven, Taylor and Dennison who were on deck at the time and they bear some of the responsibility.

The Mayor wasn’t on the Council that did the original deal and he wasn’t Mayor when the problems came to the surface.  What Goldring has done is make the best of the hand he was dealt and for the most part he has done a very good job.  But he could have and should have let the public know just what he was up against.  Had he done so however, those who wanted the Pier torn down would have been howling at his doorstep – not something he deserves.

 

 

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