Everyone who pays to flush a toilet in DeKalb County has chipped in on $5.8 million that the county OK’d spending on a troubled sewer project – though some of the work paid for has yet to be done.
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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 released a report in August after a yearlong investigation found evidence of widespread corruption in DeKalb contracting. Reporter April Hunt requested invoices on a troubled sewer plant expansion to see how the county had paid millions for shoddy work.
A TROUBLED HISTORY
DeKalb County agreed to pay the lowest bidder, Desmear Systems of Tucker, $7.7 million, to blast and clear away granite for an expansion of the Snapfinger wastewater treatment plant. 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: DeKalb determines the construction bond on the project is fraudulent and orders work to stop.
- March: Work begins again, under a new bond. The county grants Desmear an extension to 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.
- Sept. 4: County inspectors visit the site and notice problems with the retaining wall being built. An internal review begins.
- 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.
- Sept. 26: DeKalb County says the Desmear project will be rolled into a second phase of its sewer construction plan, which likely means Desmear won’t be given a chance to complete the job.
- Oct. 7: Invoices requested by the AJC show an outside engineer and two high-level county managers signed off on $5.8 million of work by Desmear, despite indications that not all of the work had been done. None of the invoices include inspection reports on the quality of the work.