By Mark Fischenich
---- — MANKATO — Blue Earth County and Southern Minnesota Construction have been going round and round over how big of a fine SMC should pay for delivering Mankato's first roundabout more than two months late, but negotiations may have reached a dead end.
"We're at a point where I think we're at a reasonable compromise," said County Engineer Al Forsberg of the county's latest offer, which he believes should be its final offer.
Under the $2.7 million contract with SMC to build the roundabout at Stadium Road and Victory Drive, the contractor owes $140,000 in fines for finishing the project on Nov. 6, 2012 — two and a half months late. Forsberg has offered to reduce the size of the fine, but he isn't saying how much — only that he's gone as far as he intends to.
The county has held back its final payment to SMC, and it's enough to cover the size of the fine. So if SMC refuses to accept the offer, it will be up to the company to try to recover the lost payment through a legal suit.
"I would really like to work this out rather than saying 'This is it,' and then risking a lawsuit," Forsberg said.
Calls from The Free Press to the local SMC office and to the company's parent company were not returned Friday. Forsberg previously said the company had three explanations for the tardy completion of the work: a delay in receiving a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit, changes in required quantities of road materials and the addition of a short section of city water pipes.
Forsberg said some of the company's explanations had some merit, others — in his opinion — had none. That's why he was willing to partially reduce the fine from $140,000.
At the same time, it would be inappropriate to forgive the fine completely, he said. It wouldn't be fair to other contractors who take completion deadlines seriously and work overtime to get the job done. And delayed projects bring an expense to drivers in lost time and fuel because detours are in place longer than necessary.
In the case of the Victory/Stadium roundabout, the Aug. 23 deadline was particularly important because Minnesota State University was about to reopen for the 2012-13 school year and the closure of the intersection meant diverting traffic to Balcerzak Road.
"There was a real cost to the public," Forsberg said. "... We think we've made a very fair and generous offer, and we're hoping to get a settlement here."