The war of words continues between the South Florida Water Management District and the now-terminated contractor building a half-a-billion-dollar project in Hendry County.
The contractor, C-43 Water Management Builders, J.V., filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the water district last week.
Meant to protect southwest Florida’s paradise, the C-43 Caloosahatchee Reservoir Project will eventually store up to 55 billion gallons of water to restore the natural flow of water from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades.
The builder alleges the SFWMD changed certain design aspects twice, which resulted in delays.
The lawsuit also alleges another contractor fell behind on their work, which meant WMB couldn’t access the project.
“WMB alleges in the complaint numerous instances of the district’s maladministration of the contract, as well as its many, substantial district-caused delays that caused over a year of project delays and tens of millions of dollars of cost overruns,” the company said in a statement to Fox 4 Investigates.
“Moreover, rather than work with WMB in good faith and fair dealing to take care of these problems, the district wrongfully blamed WMB, and then terminated the contract despite having complimented WMB’s immense efforts to successfully complete the project.”
Wednesday, at the water district’s Governing Board meeting Executive Director Drew Bartlett fired back at the accusations from the builder.
“If you hear any notion that the district caused these delays, just know that is absurd,” said Bartlett, who didn’t specifically mention the lawsuit. “We don’t tolerate delays.”
The SFWMD claims the contractor averages “an additional 20 days of delays for every month.”
The original timeline called for the project to be finished by late 2023 or early 2024.
Instead, Bartlett says the timeline has been delayed at least three years.
“The contractor did not stay on schedule. Nor would they make the changes to get back on schedule or even prevent further delays,” said Bartlett.
The water district halted construction when the builder was fired at the end of April.
Since then, Bartlett says they’ve brought back 50 construction workers with hopes of adding more in the coming days.
The goal of the project is to protect southwest Florida’s waterways and cut down on the toxic algae blooms we often see.
During rainy season, when there’s too much freshwater run off or when the Army Corps of Engineers releases water from Lake Okeechobee, the reservoir will capture the water.
In the dry season, when the estuary needs fresh water, the water can be released from the reservoir.