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Bitter contractor suing over Fort Douglas project

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A $29 million project to renovate the historic buildings at Fort Douglas on the University of Utah campus aimed to leave a lasting legacy long after the 2002 Winter Olympic Games ended.

But a recently filed lawsuit may leave a different legacy altogether — one of broken contracts and poor communication.

Murray-based Nelson Trucking last week sued the state's Division of Facilities Construction and Management in 3rd District Court for $3.2 million in connection with its work on the Athletes Village.

The six-building complex will house 4,000 visitors during the upcoming Games, including athletes, coaches, media and newly elected International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge. More than 2,000 University of Utah students are already living in the housing units.

According to Nelson's complaint, poor design and planning, as well as lack of communication between some 14 contractors involved doomed the 11-acre project from its outset.

Further, owner Bruce Nelson contends, the state's refusal to pay the remaining money on the contract has forced his company to lay off 90 employees and negatively affected the family business cash flow.

"It's caused a great deal of stress on our business, and there are many other businesses that haven't even come forward," Nelson said.

Nelson Trucking installed the project's storm drains, sewer and utilities over a nearly three-year period. The company staffed the project with workers and equipment for almost a year more than anticipated with no additional compensation, Nelson said.

Failed negotiations prompted Nelson to file the lawsuit, he said. "They led us to believe clear up until April of this year that they were willing to sit down and work out the numbers with us," Nelson said. "But then they basically said, 'We don't feel like we owe you anything,' and just slammed the door on it."

DFCM director Richard Byfield said negotiations with the company stretched out over "many, many months" and both sides have been unable to reach a common answer.

The money Nelson is seeking is to cover costs in addition to its original $3.89 million bid. For instance, the suit states, Nelson installed 7,875 feet of storm sewer as opposed to the 5,022 feet in the original plan.

Among other items, the suit contends the "plans and specifications were erroneous and inadequate for the project," because DFCM:

refused to allow Nelson access to the project site so Nelson could compete its work.

delayed the start of Nelson's work in deference to another contractor.

refused to timely respond to requests for information.

wrongfully withheld payment for work.

Byfield said it is not uncommon for issues to arise when completing such a complicated project, and the key is to sit down and "arrive at a common understanding."

"It's unfortunate that we have an issue that has arisen for this type of discussion in the press on any project, and we will address all the issues in the proper forum," Byfield said. "Our goal is to address them all . . . and to be sure we're doing a judicious job on behalf of the state. We want a win-win answer."

E-MAIL: awelling@desnews.com