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Gas leak to equal fines?
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MONROE - Damage to a high-pressure gas main at about 3 p.m. Tuesday on 16th Avenue at Sixth Street in Monroe shut down construction on that street for the rest of the day.

The accident, caused by a backhoe, is a costly delay Iowa Grant Trucking, Livingston, Wis., will have to incur.

The company has until July 31 to meet the terms of its contract for 16th Avenue street reconstruction. After that date, the city will collect liquidated damages, automatically assessed at $500 per day.

WE Energies did not have a total dollar amount of the assessed damages Wednesday afternoon. WE spokesperson Irissol Arce said about nine customers were still without gas and costs are still accumulating.

Exact claims are between the two parties, Arce said, and are not given out. But charges will include labor for repair, equipment costs, gas lost and overtime costs. Typically such claims can run into the thousands of dollars, Arce said.

Iowa Grant Trucking contracted to remove the street surface and sub-base and the curbing, to replace water, sanitary sewer and storm sewer lines and to replace the street sub-base on Fifth through Eighth streets at a cost of $176,159.

The City Council voted 6-4 May 6 to grant Iowa Grant the contract. Aldermen Charles Schuringa, Chuck Koch, Thurston Hanson and Dan Henke voted against the resolution.

Iowa Grant Trucking's bid came in about $70,000 less than any other bid.

Schuringa led the opposition in accepting the lowest bid.

"Cheap isn't always the greatest," he said at the May 6 council meeting.

Schuringa pointed out that bids by local contractors, more familiar with the city's infrastructure, were within $1,000 of each other. He said he was hesitant about approving a company whose bid was $70,000 lower than other bids.

"The low bid is not always a good way to go," he said.

The council has been viewing the unexpected $70,000 savings as a way to offset the cost of the 16th Avenue project after promising residents along the reconstruction section that assessments for the cost of the street repairs would be removed.

Jerry Ellefson, Superintendent of the Monroe Wastewaster Treatment Plant, said the Iowa Grant Trucking has only a narrow window left to complete the project.

"They were two weeks late getting started, and have only about 8-10 days left," Ellefson said.

Ellefson said the liquidated damages in city contracts are to ensure completion of a project on time.

The completion date for the first phase of the reconstruction was set to ensure the start and completion of the next phase, installing street surface, curbs, gutters, sidewalk, driveways and terraces, in time for Green County Cheese Days starting Sept. 19.

Sixteenth Avenue is designated as a business route to downtown Monroe where Cheese Days is held.

Digger's Hotline marked the gas lines, but have an 18-inch variance on either side of the paint mark. However, it was the depth of the gas lines, not their location, that the backhoe operator misjudged.

"The amount of gas lost could have been a potential disaster," Ellefson said.

The Monroe Fire Department evacuated all residents within a block north, east and west of the Sixth Street/16th Avenue intersection, where the gas line was broken.

Residents were allowed back into their homes around 4:15 p.m., about a half hour after WE Energies crews shut off the gas lines. Crews were out fixing the broken line until about 9 p.m. Tuesday.