PND refutes port study, lawsuit
PND Engineers Inc. is taking issue with the results of a CH2M Hill study done for the Municipality of Anchorage that concluded PND’s Open Cell Sheet Pile bulkhead design is not suitable for the Port of Anchorage expansion project.
“PND stands by our design,” company Vice President Kenton Braun said.
The Anchorage-based engineering firm’s design was chosen by Integrated Concepts and Research Corp., or ICRC, for use on the roughly 6,000 feet of dock structure at the port. ICRC was named port project manager by the U.S. Maritime Administration, or MARAD, in 2003.
On March 8, the municipality filed a lawsuit in state court against PND claiming its sheet pile design was faulty. The court documents referenced CH2M Hill’s suitability study several times as apparent evidence of design flaws.
Braun said PND was “blindsided” by the CH2M Hill study and that after reviewing it his company is more confident than ever in their design. VECO Alaska, now owned by CH2M Hill, and ICRC were also named in the suit for alleged construction negligence.
Methods used by ICRC’s subcontractors in installation of the sheet piles have been scrutinized in reviews of work done on the troubled port expansion project.
PND President John Pickering said his company was contractually limited to direct conversations with ICRC —prohibiting PND from having direct communication with those handling the sheet pile.
“There’s a lot of misstatements contained in that lawsuit and that’ll all come out in the process,” Pickering said.
In its study conclusion, CH2M Hill wrote that, “the (Open Cell Sheet Pile) system is not adequately designed to meet the global stability and seismic displacements based on the design criteria. The study also concludes that the open cell system is adequately designed to meet initial internal stability structural design requirements, assuming it was constructed without defects. However, at the end of 50 years, it will be slightly over-stressed due to corrosion and will not meet safety standards.”
According to Braun, the criteria that CH2M Hill claims the sheet pile design does not meet differ from those that PND was originally tasked with meeting. He said the municipality and ICRC consulted with multiple firms for more than two years to determine appropriate design criteria prior to PND’s involvement in the project.
“You can show anything to not work by making unreasonable assumptions and changing the criteria,” Braun said.
CH2M Hill has been unavailable for comment about the study.
As for the corrosion problem, Braun said PND was not involved with the development of a corrosion prevention system for the sheet piles. He noted that while an electronic corrosion prevention system has been installed, it hasn’t been turned on for the several years the project has been stagnant.
A March 26 presentation by PND to the municipality’s Geotechnical Advisory Committee was canceled several days prior by the municipality on the advice of its attorneys, according to Braun. The presentation was going to be PND’s opportunity to refute the suitability study’s claims, Braun said. He shared portions of the presentation meant for the municipality with the Journal.
In it, PND lists six criteria that it designed the sheet pile system to meet but, as Braun claimed, CH2M Hill changed. The criteria are: the structure’s design life; its “live load” capacity, or the total amount of weight that the dock can handle at one time; the combined live load and seismic stability requirements; stability requirements in the event of sea floor scouring or over dredging; and others concerning groundwater elevation and the dock’s stability during an earthquake at specified tide levels.
Braun noted CH2M Hill’s deviation from the previously agreed upon 50-year design life for the structure. In its study CH2M Hill referred to the 50-year timeframe as the “industry standard” for such projects.
In the alternative design concept plans that it presented to the municipality March 8, CH2M Hill used 75 years as the standard for structure life. He said PND designed its sheet piles to last 50 years per project criteria to limit cost.
Braun and Pickering both questioned CH2M Hill’s status as an unbiased third party since the municipality contracted with the company to develop design alternatives after it determined the sheet pile design is unsuitable.
CH2M Hill’s was paid $2.2 million by the municipality for its suitability study and slightly more than $450,000 for its design concept work.
“The municipality has said they are going to do an independent third party review (of the CH2M Hill study). However, the validity of that review will be highly dependant upon how much money they spend in doing that review,” Braun said.
In a previous interview with the Journal, Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan said while the municipality does plan on having the study reviewed, a budget or timetable for such a review has not been established.
Assistant municipal attorney Robert Owens said any reviewer will have no past or future involvement in the port controversy.
“That doesn’t mean we’re going to pay another $2 million to have CH2M Hill’s work duplicated, but certainly it would be tested and evaluated,” Owens said.
Braun contended that the yearlong CH2M Hill study process could not have evaluated all the essential criteria that other consultants spent several years debating prior to determining PND’s sheet pile system was appropriate for the port.
“The independent reviewer needs to have access to the previous work and be able to talk to all the previous people who worked on (the project),” Braun said.
He also said he wondered how a thorough review of all work would be feasible given the possibility of legal constraints put on stakeholders due to the municipality’s lawsuit.
According to Owens, the ability for a reviewer to contact previous consultants hired by ICRC regarding criteria and design issues has not been discussed by municipality officials. However, he said extensive records of past work would be available.
“PND’s going to hire their experts, we’re seeking a third party evaluation, and once litigation is under way (communication) becomes a little more isolated,” Owens said.
Pickering returned to construction issues to sum up the mess.
“If the thing had been built correctly, we wouldn’t be having this discussion,” he said.