Gulf Group will pay penalties for late completion of repairs on the St. George Island fishing pier.

On July 2, Greg Preble of Preble Rish, a county engineering consultant, told commissioners Gulf Group of Panama City, the contractor tapped to repair the St. George Island fishing pier, has fallen behind schedule.

A runaway barge destroyed 165 feet of the pier last year on June 28 during Tropical Storm Debby and left two thirds of the fishing pier inaccessible from land.

Preble Rish created a plan to reconnect the two sections of the pier with a wooden walkway. In January, Gulf Group was awarded the repair contract, which calls for the work to be completed by July 1.

On July 2, Preble said he did not expect the job to be completed before late August. At that time, only a single piling had been placed but, as of July 8, more than a dozen pilings had been installed.

Gulf Group is being penalized $300 daily for missing the June 30 deadline under the liquidated damages clause of their contract. Preble said, in retrospect, he wishes the penalty for lateness had been greater.

“My guess is the county will wind up with a $15,000 credit,” said Preble.

In addition to running behind schedule, Gulf Group asked for an additional $17,000 to add three pilings to the design.

County Planner Alan Pierce said the engineer would normally have performed a standard penetration test prior to construction but, in this case, the cost of the test was $50,000 and the county opted to waive the test.

Preble said his firm attempted to predict the condition of the seabed based on tests run during the construction of the two bridges. But when a test piling was driven, it became apparent the heavy current had gouged out unexpected deep holes at the construction site.

Pierce said the county saved money by not performing the test.

The commission voted unanimously to allow the work change order raising the cost of construction to more than $473,000.

Preble said Gulf Group is “doing what they can to allow some fishing” from the remnants of the pier still in place and not under construction.

He said the new deck connecting the two sections of the old bridge will support foot traffic and light vehicles like golf carts but not cars and trucks.

District 1 Commissioner Pinki Jackel, who represents St. George Island, said she was unhappy with the slow completion of the repairs.

 “Make sure you don’t waive any penalties. I want you to hold them to the letter of what they’re supposed to reproduce,” she told Preble. “The $300 is a drop in the bucket to what the island merchants would have gotten. The money won’t help the merchants at all. We’ve missed the season.”

She said she hoped most of the money spent on the construction would be recovered by the county’s lawsuit of Orion Marine Contractors, of Houston, Texas who owned the runaway barge.

Orion, who was in the area as a subcontractor for Progress Energy, is denying liability for the damage, calling the storm an “act of God.” The company maintains the barge was properly moored.

The county retained Robert Dees, certified by the Florida Bar in maritime and admiralty law, in the event the county’s insurance carrier denies coverage and payment is sought from Progress Energy or Orion for the damages.

In the interim, commissioners voted to fund the repairs out of the $1.66 million in the bridge fund, which was set up by the state after it built the new bridge to St. George Island a decade ago.

At the July 2 meeting, Commissioner Noah Lockley pointed out that the money for the repairs came entirely out of accrued interest and the principal of the fund has not been touched.