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Residents question road work award

Dick Rutherford photographed this severed sewer pipe last year. It wasn't connected to the main line.

If a contractor leaves unfinished business - or a mess - from the last job it performed, at least two Park Rapids business owners maintain that company should not be awarded any more work until the slate is wiped clean.

Such was the case last week when the city awarded the $1+ million contract for the southwest area street and utility improvement to Sellin Bros., Inc., of Hawley.

Highway 34 business owner Dick Rutherford, representing himself and Scott Wilson, owner of Park Theater, said the contractor owes both businesses money from sewer damage caused by the highway construction that went through the heart of the city in 2008 and 2009.

"We've settled everything with the city and the state," said co-owner Joel Sellin.

"They don't know the whole story on that," he maintained of the Highway 34 project.

"It's unfortunate a couple people feel that way. We do have a solid working relationship with the city of Park Rapids and we look forward again to working again in your community this summer and we'll strive to deliver a quality project to the people of Park Rapids," Sellin said.

Sellin said the two-year-long Highway 34 project had many facets. All issues with that project were resolved, he said.

"When Highway 34 was redone apparently something right there under the street in front of Dick Rutherford's was not done correctly or it wasn't done to specifications," city administrator Bill Smith said. "There may be some subtleties there. It may have been legal but not the way we wanted it."

"Then there was some other work going on somewhere that moved the pipe or jarred the pipe and it made that joint in front of Dick Rutherford's come apart."

Rutherford's not sure the joint was ever truly connected.

"One of the pipes they put in, for some reason, they used a rubber joint between their pipe and my pipe," Rutherford said, connecting the main line to his sewer line.

"Well, when they dug it up it was 4 inches apart," Rutherford said. "My sewer wouldn't work. It went on the blink two years ago. We got it rooted out and got it taken care of so at least we could get sewage through it."

But the problems resurfaced in the winter of 2009, Rutherford maintains.

"We didn't have a sewer," he said. "And we had numerous people in here with outfits trying to get it to work. We finally got a guy from Walker. It cost us $500. He said, 'There's something definitely wrong with it. You've got a broken pipe.'"

That perplexed the owner of Toys for Boys.

"Now how in the hell can I have a broken pipe when I ain't done nothing?" Rutherford recalled thinking.

After a lengthy vacuum process to clean out the pipe, the city x-rayed the perceived problem.

"They get out 52 feet and start running into sand and gravel and they can't go further," Rutherford said. "Well, that's all the way back to the sidewalk. That's not my property, that's city property."

He said it was June 2009 before workers finally got a permit to dig.

"They stuck the x-ray machine in there and under the center of the highway they found a joint that was not connected," Rutherford said. "This was where the main problem was. Sand was washing back."

"The city felt like the Sellin Brothers ought to bear some of the responsibility for the repair work that went on out there and they denied any" responsibility, Smith recalled of discussions with the contractor.

"It had to be fixed so the city fronted that money and wanted to be reimbursed and they wouldn't do it," Smith said.

Then there was a mess near Park Theater.

"Apparently the story there is they severed a service line and were unaware of it and it serviced the theater," Smith said. "Sellin Brothers said, 'Well it wasn't in the city plans,' so they weren't aware of it. So they had no responsibility for it. The argument back is that you're digging and you cut a pipe in two, you know something's wrong," he said.

"Common sense tells you, 'Uh-oh, somebody's got a problem here.' So they denied any responsibility for that as well," Smith said.

Talks with the contractor went nowhere.

"It upsets me to think it cost the city probably $10,000-$12,000 and the highway is still not fixed right," Rutherford said. "Nancy and I figure we lost close to $5,000."

"It wasn't only my place," Rutherford said. "Scott had to buy a brand new ice machine because it fouled up the ice machine. We figure now we'll send 'em a bill and if they don't want to pay it we'll take 'em to conciliation court. "

Rutherford urged city leaders not to award the latest contract until the unfinished business is taken care of. In the alternate, he urged the city to force the contractor to post a liability bond.

"I lost a renter out of the deal and that cost me five months rent," Rutherford said of the 2009 work that resulted in his rental home not having sewer service. He understands his tenant got tired of using the facilities at the convenience store across the highway.

Wilson did not respond to calls seeking comment by the time the paper went to pres.

Talk at the council table was that Sellin Brothers needed to "do remedial work to repair their reputation with the city."

Council member Dave Konshok said he has had talks with the company.

"They are concerned" about their reputation, he acknowledged. "This was an attractive bid from them."

But as the company begins more work around the city, Rutherford says while the company may have a good track record for completing projects, it should reimburse him and Wilson for their out of pocket costs associated with the pipes that didn't connect.

"And I'm saying, 'Hey guys. They've got insurance to cover this, insurance to pay for it,'" Rutherford told the city.

"This is not the city's fault," he said. "So why should the city say, 'Hey we'll excuse it,'" Rutherford maintains.

"They should be taking it to the next step."

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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