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Negotiations continue on sewer contract

August 29, 1997

By DON AINES

Staff Writer, Martinsburg

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The Berkeley County Public Service Sewer District Board and an engineering firm Thursday night agreed to continue negotiations on a contract for designing a $77 million sewer project for the southern part of the county.

The first phase of that project, scheduled to begin next year, will extend service from the Corning plant south along U.S. 11 to Inwood and put four schools on the system. One of those is the new Musselman High School, scheduled to open next fall.

At one point Thursday, the board and Pentree Inc., a Princeton, W.Va., engineering firm, appeared at an impasse. They reached the agreement to continue negotiations after an executive session at the board's meeting Thursday night.

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According to Walt Sebert, the sewer district's general manager, the two sides will extend the talks through next week and will begin negotiating again this morning. "It was a very professional, very amicable meeting," he said.

Thursday afternoon, however, the two sides had met with the county commission to discuss the issue. Two weeks ago, the board had issued a notice of termination to Pentree that could have taken effect today.

"The only thing I want to know is if southern Berkeley's sewer system is on track," said Del. Larry Faircloth, R-Berkeley, who attended the commission meeting with Sen. Harry Dugan, R-Berkeley, Board Chairman Bob Grove assured them the project was going forward.

Pentree did the facilities plan for the sewer system, but the disagreement centered on the contract for design engineering of the project. "There is a written contract signed by both parties, but there is no price agreement," board attorney William Rohr-baugh told the commission.

The board and Pentree have been negotiating for several months over the price, board member Mary Collins told the commission. She claimed Pentree would not budge on its price.

Pentree attorney Richard L. Douglas said the company was willing to sit down and negotiate in good faith. "Instead, we get letters that say `as of this date, you're finished. You're through.'" Douglas said.

He said Pentree had never threatened a lawsuit over the matter and was willing to submit it to a mediator appointed by the circuit court or the commission.

Commission President Jim Smith said it was the board's responsibility to negotiate the contract and the commission did not wish to intervene. If the project was threatened by the dispute, however, he did not rule out the commission getting involved.

"The powers that be in Charleston change and they change their minds," warned Commissioner Robert L. Burk-hart. He said delays could jeopardize funding.

After meeting with the commission, the board and Pentree picked up the issue again Thursday night in an executive session that, according to the board's agenda, included discussion of performance concerns over Pentree, as well as the price.

The first phase of the sewer project will cost approximately $30 million, according to Sebert. He said the district has a $22 million commitment from the state as long as the bond issue is closed by June 1999.

Sebert said the sewer district and school system have been examining options for on-site wastewater treatment at the new Musselman High until the school is connected to the system.

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