FAA finds no merit to Connell complaint against Routt County

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— The Federal Aviation Administration has rejected complaints filed by Fort Collins-based Connell Resources against Routt County related to construction work that took place at Yampa Valley Regional Airport more than five years ago.

Connell Resources, which lost a jury trial over a civil lawsuit against the county in December 2010, subsequently filed a complaint with the FAA in Denver alleging that the county and its engineering firm failed to live up to federal grant requirements in the way they carried out an improvement project at YVRA. Connell Resources was the general contractor on the project. The suit alleged Connell suffered losses when the county withheld payments and insisted it work beyond normal winter shutdown time in late autumn 2005.

Bill Watson, manager of the FAA’s Safety and Standards Branch in the Northwest and Mountain Region based near Seattle, informed Connell in a six-page letter last month that after lengthy study it had found no basis for Connell’s complaints.

“Based on our evaluation, it appears that Routt County, acting on its own or through its engineering firm, Carter & Burgess, has not violated its grant obligations with the FAA,” Watson wrote. “We conclude that these matters warrant no further FAA action and we have closed your FAR Part 13 informal complaint.”

Watson added that his office would continue to monitor the ongoing airport improvement work to ensure that only approved project inspection fees are paid and reconciled prior to the completion of the grant work.

The complaints with the FAA by Connell were technical in nature.

With regard to one of several complaints, Watson wrote in response:

“You allege that Routt County’s engineer may have billed and been paid for additional FAA reimbursement for a change from ‘calendar days’ to ‘working days’ (for billing purposes) when the FAA project manager previously indicated that funding for that change was not compensable.”

Watson wrote in his response that his staff had found a discrepancy in inspection records, but he went on to say it would be reconciled when the grant expenditures are finalized: “While Routt County maintained its records in accordance with this grant assurance, we have learned that Routt County reimbursed itself for additional project inspection fees. However, this is not related to changing the contract time from calendar days to working days as stated in your letter. These additional project fees have not been submitted for FAA review and acceptance as of this time. The FAA Denver office is actively pursuing the (issue) — this discrepancy will be resolved accordingly during the project close-out process.”

Finally, Watson wrote that his letter did not necessarily signify final action by his agency, subject to judicial review of the matter.

Connell alleged in the original suit that Routt County withheld funds the contractor said it was due because the county insisted they continue working past normal “winter shutdown” time in late autumn 2005. Much of the work involved strengthening aircraft parking areas to accommodate heavier aircraft during the winter flight program that brings visitors to Steamboat Springs during ski season.

Connell’s contract was for $9.4 million, according to the lawsuit. Connell’s attorneys did not request specific damages but alleged in their complaint that the county cost their clients more than $1 million by reneging on contract terms and withholding funds.

Connell has appealed the jury verdict in Routt County to the Colorado Court of Appeals.

Routt County spent $1.18 million on the legal matter in 2010, an amount that does not represent a full accounting on the cost of defending itself against the allegations.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205

or email tross@SteamboatToday.com

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