Second lawsuit filed over Charleston airport expansion work

Source:, November 20, 2018
By: Warren L. Wise

Two years after Charleston International celebrated completion of its terminal expansion and overhaul, another legal tussle has cropped up.
The airport’s oversight agency is now suing the architect and a subcontractor in state court for at least $1.5 million over the installation of a cable system that controls airport operations.
The Charleston County Aviation Authority alleges Fentress Architects of Colorado and Burns Engineering of Pennsylvania modified drawings to eliminate four telecommunication cable rooms from the second-floor level and relocate them to the ground-floor apron level.
That, according to the lawsuit, required the low-voltage lines to exceed the maximum 295 feet to meet performance requirements. The airport said it identified seven areas where the cables were too long.
The Aviation Authority has already paid for the work, but it says it filed the lawsuit to recoup the cost to redesign the cable installation and construction expenses along with any business interruption expenses.
“A reasonably prudent design professional in similar circumstances would not have made the same errors and omissions as the design team did” on the terminal project, the suit alleges.
Officials with Fentress Architects and Burns Engineering did not respond to requests for comment on the lawsuit.
Last spring, a flurry of lawsuits alleged work remained to be done, some of it wasn’t that great and repairs were needed.
The airport owner and several construction firms remain embroiled in legal battles over alleged flaws, missed deadlines and failure to make payments.
The Aviation Authority fired its lead contractor earlier this year, saying the Austin-Hitt Joint Venture missed scheduling deadlines and didn’t turn over some documents.
The airport owner also alleged “deficiencies” in craftsmanship led to leaks, improperly installed cables and unfinished work that must now be completed by a different company.
Texas-based Austin Commercial and Hitt Contracting of Virginia fired back, saying the airport operator kept making changes and adding items that prevented them from meeting deadlines and avoiding cost overruns in a project that took about five years to complete.
The two builders claimed the airport is withholding the final $7.15 million of their $165 million deal. It is also seeking another $2.15 million for work performed outside the scope of the original terms.
The airport acknowledged it owed Austin-Hitt money — about $2.7 million. It said it paid the joint venture in March after deducting costs for the alleged unfinished work, repairs, damages and other expenses.
Meanwhile, Bell Constructors has sued Austin-Hitt for failure to pay about $900,000 of its $22.4 million contract. Austin-Hitt alleges Bell “failed to complete its work” and also blames the Aviation Authority for withholding money sought by the New York-based mechanical systems installer.
A judge has since ordered all of the earlier lawsuits be consolidated into a single case.

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