The $7.7 million contract called for excavation, rock clearing and grubbing – pretty mundane stuff in the construction world. But DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis called it “historic.”
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A Troubled History
DeKalb County agreed to pay the lowest bidder, Desmear Systems of Tucker, $7.7 million, to blast and clear away granite at the site of an expansion of the Snapfinger wastewater treatment plant, in 2012. Work was to begin on July 30, 2012 and be completed in nine months. But problems emerged almost from the start. Some key moments:
December 2012: DeKalb determines the construction bond on the project is fraudulent and orders work to stop at the site.
March: Work begins again, under a new bond. The county grants Desmear an extension because of the delay, for work to be completed by June 30. Desmear requests a second delay, through August 2013, citing rain and weather. DeKalb refuses. The county also notifies the company that it will enforce a penalty of $1,000 per day if the June 30 deadline is not met.
Aug. 26: A representative from Desmear notifies the county that the project will not be completed until February 2014.
Aug. 27: County officials meet with residents from neighborhoods surrounding the Snapfinger expansion, to address concerns about blasting noise.
Sept. 4: County inspectors visit the construction site and notice problems with the retaining wall being built. An internal review begins, to be done in conjunction with a review of all companies named in the special grand jury’s report into allegations of corruption in DeKalb contracts.
Week of Sept. 16: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution begins asking about the awarding of the contract to Desmear, after revealing discrepancies in the company’s financial information.
Sept. 19: In response to AJC questions, DeKalb County officials confirm several instances of poor work and lax oversight at the Desmear construction site and uncertainty about oversight on the project.
Sept. 20: DeKalb County orders all work to halt at the Desmear site, as an internal investigation continues.
About Desmear Systems, Inc.
President: Omatayo Idowu
Services provided: Bills itself as a “full-service design and engineering firm with additional expertise in planning and program, construction and facility management.”
Major projects: Construction manager on the Candler Road MARTA station; Resident engineer for $300 million Grady Hospital expansion; oversaw Perry Boulevard MARTA bus facility
How we got the story
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is digging into how contracts are awarded in DeKalb County, especially its water and sewer department. A special-purpose grand jury last month released a yearlong investigation that found evidence of widespread corruption in DeKalb contracting. Reporters April Hunt and Bill Torpy are among the AJC reporters who are reviewing DeKalb contracts to find out if they are awarded fairly and to find out if taxpayers are getting quality work for their money.