CAA Digs In With Pollution Liability Policy

June 5, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS  —  How much dirt did the Business Journal recently dig up on the convention center expansion project?  Try 240,000 tons worth.

Convention and Arena Authority Project Manager Dale Sommers told the Business Journal that around 155,000 cubic yards of soil, which weighs about 240,000 tons, would be dug up from the worksite on Monroe Avenue and then taken to the Ottawa County Farms Landfill in Coopersville.

To manage the risk of an unforeseen ac-cident possibly occurring, especially in the transit of all that dirt, the CAA purchased a pollution-liability insurance policy.

In May, the CAA amended its agreement with Erhardt-Hunt, the projects construction manager, and made the general contractor liable for the safe removal of all the excavated soil from the worksite. At first, the board planned to assume that responsibility. Further review, however, revealed that deadlines would be met more efficiently and the job could be done more inexpensively if Erhardt-Hunt took on that role.

When we first started our planning a number of months ago, the soil removal was going to be coordinated by the owner apart from the construction manager agreement. But the more we got into the coordination of removing soils and the role of the construction manager, it really made a lot more sense, and wed spend a little bit less money, if we had the construction manager take that responsibility, said Sommers.

Regardless of who was responsible, the building owner or the construction manager, the CAA would still have paid for the policy. The only difference is the board bought it in the name of Erhardt-Hunt, instead of its own, and became the additionally insured party, instead of the primary insured party.

The coordination factor was the big thing, said Sommers. Between the soil removal, caissons and staying on schedule, putting another person in the loop just didnt make sense as we talked about it more.

Naming the board as the policys primary would have added expense to the project, one already at $219.5 million or nearly $20 million more than the original cost estimate made in 1996.

We, the owner, would have hired an excavator. We would have had someone supervising that excavator. Then there would have been coordination with the construction manager on other things that they were doing, said Sommers. This way that supervision and coordination is built right in, and we dont have to worry about it.

It was a matter of convenience for the owner to keep on schedule, more than anything.

The CAA bought the pollution-liability policy from the American International Group, better known as AIG, one of the worlds largest commercial insurers based in New York.

Its a policy to protect the Authority, county and the city for any alleged contamination that would be on that site. Because this is an urban site and there have been all kinds of things on this site over the years  like gas stations, and Bissell had an old coal plant down by the river  and because there is a river there, you just never know what someone is going to find that is unexpected, said Sommers.

Materials Testing Consultants of Grand Rapids performed the baseline environmental assessment of the site, and the removed soil will be taken to the Coopersville landfill, a type-two, clay-based facility that is authorized to accept the dirt.

All urban soil has some lead in it, and it has different types of metals that are a concern to people. This policy protects everyone while were building the site for any environmental issue that may or may not come up, added Sommers.

Most contractors that are running a program want to have that coverage in place because it affects their assets, if there ever is a liability issue.

Other studies were done to determine whether or not workers would be safe on the site, especially when the caissons are drilled. That process swirls the dirt, and the Department of Environmental Quality needed to know if the site was safe enough to do that type of work. Sommers said it is.

All of those studies have been done by Materials Testing, he said.

One company will drill the caissons, while another contractor will haul the soil to Coopersville. Erhardt-Hunt, a joint venture between Erhardt Construction of Grand Rapids and The Hunt Group of Indianapolis, will oversee both operations.

One feature of the new convention facility, to be known as DeVos Place when it opens in 2004, is the underground parking garage.

At first thought, the garage might seem to be the reason for so much soil having to be dug up and then moved. But that is not the case.

We would still remove the same amount of dirt, said Sommers, whether or not a parking garage was part of the plan. Because we have to get down, basically, to the bedrock for foundations and the support of the structure.  

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