Port-contractor suit over time to build T-dock in courtroom

Published 1:00 pm Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The ongoing dispute over whether Warren County fully paid a contractor is being heard by a circuit court jury this week.

The $900,000 claim was filed by Riverside Construction, hired by the Warren County Port Commission to erect a new T-dock and crane support platform at the Port of Vicksburg.

Riverside says the commission furnished inadequate engineering plans and refused to cooperate, causing the delays for which the payment was withheld.

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Riverside filed its suit in October 2008, seeking monetary relief and a contract extension of at least 75 days to finish the project. Initially scheduled for trial in September, the case was postponed after various additional documents were filed on both sides.

Circuit Judge M. James Chaney is presiding. Monday, a jury of seven women and five men, with two men as alternates, was empaneled before opening arguments and initial witnesses were called.

“This was a difficult project, and Riverside couldn’t do it alone,” said Riverside attorney Christopher Solop of the Jackson firm Robinson, Biggs, Ingram, Solop and Farris. “It needed the help of the owner and the engineer, and it didn’t get it.”

Solop claimed the project’s plans, drawn by the Baton Rouge firm ABMB Engineers, were insufficient and required modifications and on-site corrections.

In addition, unforeseeable high river levels in early 2008 made it impossible for Riverside to complete the project on time.

The contract imposed damages of $5,000 a day for delays. Materials alterations, unbudgeted labor and other expenses also added to the costs, which Riverside is seeking to recover.

David Sessums of Varner, Parker and Sessums of Vicksburg, representing the commission, told jurors that the commission awarded the contract to Riverside in 2007 even though the company bid $1 million over the $2.4 million project estimate. The company was experienced with river-based projects and knew how unpredictable it could be, he said.

The 100-day contract given to Riverside was also “perfectly clear,” Sessums told jurors. He said company owner Lewis Miller wasted time at various points during the contract period, including waiting a week to 10 days before ordering key materials.

“While there may be damages out there, they were all self-inflicted,” Sessums said. “The Warren County Port Commission did not inflict those damages — if they exist.”

Testimony was to continue today.