Company in MSD probe supplied 'unapproved' concrete for bridges project
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – A company banned this week from working with the Metropolitan Sewer District amid a fraud investigation was accused last year of supplying unauthorized concrete for the Ohio River Bridges Project.
Advance Ready Mix Concrete allegedly provided concrete that contained “unapproved ingredient materials” from two Louisville plants, according to documents obtained under Kentucky’s open records law.
The materials were for the downtown part of the $2.3 billion project – a new Interstate 65 bridge and a redesigned Spaghetti Junction, where Interstates 64, 65 and 71 converge.
The concrete was placed on a bridge carrying I-64 East/I-71 North over Witherspoon Street before it was later removed, said Clair Nichols, a spokesman for Walsh Construction. Advance is a subcontractor Walsh hired in 2013 to provide concrete for the downtown work.
Nichols said a “small amount” -- about eight cubic yards -- was removed. That amounts to about 16 tons, according to concrete industry calculations for "normal" concrete.
Advance has provided more than 100,000 cubic yards of concrete during construction and Walsh is pleased with the company's work, he said.
The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet notified Advance last July that it planned to suspend the company's Campbellsburg facility for a year for supplying material to an unnamed state project and place the company’s other plants on probation.The Campbellsburg plant was not on a list of approved suppliers, documents show.
In November, the state informed Advance of its intent to suspend the Clay and Water Street plants in Louisville for providing the improper concrete for the bridges project.
The two sides later agreed to a settlement allowing the state to increase inspections at the company’s plants; in return, Advance did not admit any wrongdoing.
Nichols emphasized that no unapproved materials have been incorporated into the Louisville project.
“Once it’s discovered as being outside of (specification) through testing done by the Cabinet and by Walsh it’s not used,” he said. “If it happens to get used, as it did in this case, then it’s removed and replaced.”
The companies in charge of an upriver bridge – the eastern section of the bridges project – replaced a subcontractor doing concrete tests last year after it made “errors” in key calculations and failed to submit reports on time.
Concrete that doesn’t meet requirements can be inadvertently used on construction projects, triggering state action, said John E. McChord, director of engineering for the Kentucky Ready Mixed Concrete Association.
“There can be some accidental use of a non-approved material from a plant that’s, you know, just a human nature problem that somebody loaded something in a bin that shouldn’t have been,” he said.
Camilla Schroeder, Advance’s president, did not respond to a request for comment.
Up to 20 percent of the company’s overall business was bridge-related as of last fall, according to a WDRB.com story from September 2014.
An informal settlement agreement signed in March between Advance and the Transportation Cabinet’s division of materials indicates the company challenged the enforcement action, arguing that state rules governing concrete use can’t be enforced. Advance later asked for an administrative hearing.
But before that could happen, the two sides settled the case. The Transportation Cabinet agreed to list the Campbellsburg plant as “inactive” until July 2015 and remove the Water Street plant in Louisville from state-imposed probation.
Advance was one of two companies suspended this week by MSD as part of an ongoing audit into the sewer district’s supplier diversity program, MSD spokesman Steve Tedder said.
That audit was initiated after the news website Insider Louisville reported earlier this year that the Bancroft Group, a minority-owned business, appeared to be acting as a “pass-through” for Advance.
Preliminary audit findings substantiate that reporting.
The Transportation Cabinet has suspended Bancroft from Kentucky’s “disadvantaged business enterprise” program for minority- and female-owned companies, spokesman Chuck Wolfe said.
Asked whether MSD’s suspension of Advance raises concerns about the company doing business with the state, Wolfe said: “The Cabinet’s only concern about Advance is that Advance – like any other contractor – supply what it’s supposed to supply.”
He noted that Walsh ultimately is in charge of its subcontractors.
Advance also has been named in two lawsuits filed after people were struck and killed in 2014 by the company’s drivers, including a woman walking at the base of the Clark Memorial Bridge and a woman hit at 12th Street and Broadway.
Those lawsuits are pending in Jefferson Circuit Court.
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