Subcontractors steaming over Strandherd-Armstrong Bridge project

Incomplete construction projects across the country abandoned by ConCreate USL Ltd. Partnership following its bankruptcy protection filing have been handed to Horseshoe Hill Construction Inc., a new company reportedly made up of senior members from the bankrupt firm headquartered in Bolton, Ont.

It’s so new, in fact, that the company has a website with only one page (currently under construction) with only a P.O. Box number and a generic e-mail address, and a Facebook page without any posted content.

Bonding firm The Guarantee Company of North America picked Horseshoe Hill to finish the Strandherd-Armstrong Bridge linking Barrhaven and Riverside South, apparently placing the contract back in the hands of officials who ran the now-defunct company.

Several current Horseshoe Hill employees also list experience with ConCreate USL on their LinkedIn profiles. Furthermore, Bob Dempsey, president of The Guarantee Company of North America, told CBC that Horseshoe Hill is a new company made up of senior people from ConCreate USL.

While Mr. Dempsey did not return messages left by OBJ, several subcontractors say Horseshoe Hill will complete the projects on a time and materials basis, billing the bonding company for the hours and labour provided, rather than adhering to the budget outlined in the previous contract.

ConCreate’s bid for the $45.2-million eight-lane bridge across the Rideau River came in more than $1 million cheaper than the nearest competing bid from local construction company R.W. Tomlinson. Yet Tomlinson wasn’t called when the original company filed for bankruptcy, leaving various subcontractors in the lurch and on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid labour and services.

“This is something new,” said Dale Harley, a spokesperson for the National Capital Heavy Construction Association. “It’s a little concerning for people in the business that it’s gone this way. It’s not good for business.”

 

UNPAID LABOUR

DCM Erectors was hired by ConCreate to erect the bridge, but faced construction delays. That’s because the bridge’s steel fabricator, Nova Scotia-based Cherubini Metal Works Ltd., never received the $4.5 million that the city paid for its services, even though several other subcontractors were told by ConCreate officials that the money was sent.

The delays left DCM Erectors to string out its subcontractor relationships without having any work for them. Eventually, Horseshoe Hill told the company its services were no longer needed and brought in Montacier International Inc. from Quebec to finish the job instead.

DCM now faces a construction lien lawsuit from Access Rigging Services, a Carp-based company that has yet to receive payment from DCM Erectors for its shoring services. Access Rigging is also taking legal action against ConCreate for unreceived payments.

DCM’s general superintendent, Gary Counsell, said that $2.2 million of its $3-million contract went unpaid, and that Horseshoe Hill didn’t give DCM the chance to complete the work it had been promised.

“These guys (ConCreate) went out the front door with two suitcases full of money because they knew every job in Canada was going to tank,” Mr. Counsell said. “Then they turned around, and came in the back door with empty suitcases.”

 

BRIDGE TO NOWHERE

Meanwhile, the City of Ottawa maintains the bridge is 60 per cent complete and will be finished by August 2013.

But that bridge is actually closer to 30 per cent complete, Mr. Counsell said.

The structure still needs to be erected and rolled over the water, with multiple steps remaining.

“That bridge is not going to be done next year,” said Frank Sved, general manager for Ottawa-based Dulepka Equipment Rentals Inc., which provided and maintained the cranes used on the project as a subcontractor under DCM Erectors.

 

DCM ERECTORS TO SUE THE CITY OF OTTAWA

The erector originally hired for the Strandherd-Armstrong Bridge said it has no choice but to sue the city after it confiscated equipment used on the project.

DCM’s general superintendent Gary Counsell said he built a specialized jig, a tent to cover it and an electrical container specifically for the bridge. Mr. Counsell said he was going to take the equipment with him after being fired from the job and replaced by Quebec-based erector Montacier International Inc. when Horseshoe Hill Construction took over the job.

Mr. Counsell said a city engineer approached him to purchase the setup, but shortly afterwards he received a solicitor’s letter saying the city owned the equipment – although it was built after the contract was signed and therefore not mentioned anywhere within it.

“I really don’t think that the city has a leg to stand on,” Mr. Counsell said. “I think that somewhere down the road, they’re going to be sorry for this.”

The company of 700 employees has an Ottawa office but is headquartered in Toronto.

“You stole my equipment, you stole the chance for me to make my money back, yeah I’m mad,” he said of the city and Horseshoe Hill.

The jig cost DCM around $200,000, the tent $6,000 and the electrical container $30,000.

The city could not be reached for comment.

Dulepka is taking legal action to reclaim the $90,000 it’s still owed by DCM, but its management feels the city needs to be held accountable for not questioning the holding company’s decision to hire Horseshoe Hill, rather than going to one of the original bidders, such as Tomlinson.

“These people were a very viable local contractor … Now millions of dollars have gone out of town, into the pockets of other people. Money was taken away from them, and it went where? We don’t know,” Mr. Sved said, referring to the unpaid labour of subcontractors.

The city did not reply for comment by press time, and neither the The Guarantee Company of North America nor Horseshoe Hill replied to OBJ’s phone calls and e-mails.