Routt County is defendant in airport lawsuit
Jury selection to begin Monday for contract dispute
November 28, 2010
Steamboat Springs — Attorneys for Routt County and paving contractor Connell Resources will begin selecting a jury Monday in a million dollar contract dispute about work done at Yampa Valley Regional Airport in 2005 and 2006.
Attorneys for Connell, the plaintiff in the lawsuit, are not seeking specific monetary damages, but allege in their complaint that the county cost their client more than $1 million by reneging on the terms of their contract and withholding funds.
County Attorney John Merrell said this week that he is concerned it will be difficult to seat a jury because it involves county government and a prominent contracting firm that has done large jobs in the valley.
County Commission Chairwoman Nancy Stahoviak, who is on the list of prospective witnesses for the trial, declined to comment for this article.
Denver law firm Faegre and Benson filed the original complaint on behalf of Connell in August 2009. Attorneys Kevin Bridston, of Holland & Hart in Denver, and Douglas Karet, of Holloway, Brabec and Karet in Steamboat Springs, filed a trial brief on behalf of Connell this month.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs say in documents filed in Routt County District Court that the dispute has it roots in the county's desire to value-engineer projects at the airport in Hayden. Connell was the sole bidder on the $9.4 million project in 2005 at a time when the construction industry was booming in Routt County. That bid exceeded the county's budget by 25 percent.
"Connell lowered the price of the project based on promises Routt County made regarding the project scope, schedule and means and methods used to perform the contract," Bridston wrote in the complaint.
Without price reductions of $1.29 million, made in consultation with project engineers at Carter and Burgess, the project would not have gone forward, Bridston said.
Merrell said the work described in the contract included creating new automobile parking areas and an arrival lane on the "land side" of the airport terminal and reinforcement of a portion of the aircraft parking area to increase the capacity for heavier aircraft, specifically Boeing 757s.
The attorneys for the plaintiff said the value-engineering process delayed the beginning of work for two months in summer 2005, pushing it back to August. However, their client felt protected by a change from the original performance terms of the contract that was put in place after value-engineering took place.
The change could be a pivotal point in the case based on Bridston's and Karet's trial brief.
Connell's attorneys said the terms of a supplemental agreement to the contract were changed. Instead of giving the contractor 180 calendar days to complete the job, it was changed to 180 working days.
"Weather in the fall of 2005 was unseasonably wet and cold," the attorneys wrote. "These weather conditions materially impeded Connell's ability to efficiently progress the work. As a result, Connell requested to begin the planned winter shutdown in late October. Routt County refused."
They also state that their clients were compelled to work with wet paving material.
Attorneys for Connell characterized that refusal as "wholly inconsistent" with the contract changes and further claim that the county unreasonably withheld funds.
County cites contract law
Routt County has associated with attorneys Daniel M. Gross, Jason T. Pink and Heidi C. Potter, of Berg Hill Greenleaf and Ruscitti in Boulder, for the trial.
With the burden of proof on the plaintiffs, the defense team is set up to refute any claims by Connell that the county didn't live up to the terms of the contract.
Together with Merrell, the Boulder legal team filed a 40-page trial brief intended to lay out the legal arguments they will present at trial. The documents go into great detail defining and clarifying contract law as it pertains to construction activities.
The case file reflects that Chief District Court Judge Michael O'Hara has presided over a long list of motions hearings related to the case since October 2009.