Embattled contractor speaks

Doug Gonder wants to set the record straight. The owner of Norcope Enterprises, who has been embroiled in a lawsuit with the Yukon government, has up until now avoided talking publicly about the case.

Doug Gonder wants to set the record straight.

The owner of Norcope Enterprises, who has been embroiled in a lawsuit with the Yukon government over a contract his company held for the new Whistle Bend subdivision for a year and a half, has up until now avoided talking publicly about the case.

But now that the government has filed a countersuit accusing his company poor workmanship, he’s had enough.

“I’ve done this line of work my whole life, and I’ve never had to deal with the amount of crap that’s been brought into my lap with this job,” he said. “It’s an insult to the people who did professional work there.”

Problems started soon after Norcope Enterprises won a $15.9-million contract to install underground utilities in the first two phases of the subdivision.

Almost immediately after the tender was awarded, the government issued changes to the design that got rid of a sewer lift station and changed the slope of the subdivision so it drained to the north, rather than the south.

To change the slope, the government decided to dig up a natural sand dune on site – which was a protected natural feature under Whistle Bend’s original plans – and use it to raise up the levels of 187 lots.

Norcope assumed that the new work fell under its contract and bought and leased new equipment to do the job.

From Gonder’s perspective, there was no time to waste.

Under the terms of the contract his company would be penalized for any delays in he construction schedule.

Norcope’s estimate and revised schedule to do the work was rejected by the government as too expensive and too long.

Instead the government awarded the work to Sidhu Trucking, leaving Norcope with a bunch of expensive equipment it didn’t need.

Not only did the government issue a “change order” giving $2-million worth of work to Sidhu, but it issued another one that actually reduced Norcope’s contract by $600,000 because the design changes now required less excavation work.

Fed up, Gonder decided to take it to the streets.

He had his work crews surround the Yukon legislature with the idle heavy equipment in protest.

The government’s decision to give the extra work to Sidhu without putting it out to tender angered other contractors as well.

Castle Rock Enterprises has argued that the entire Whistle Bend contract should have been put back out to tender after it was redesigned.

While it didn’t endorse Norcope’s protest, the company said that it was “very pleased to see that the issue of YTG’s contracting practices is finally coming to the attention of the Yukon taxpayers,” in a press release issued at the time.

Eventually Norcope took its fight from the street to the courtroom, filing a lawsuit against the Yukon government accusing it of breach of contract.

The two sides ended up settling that issue out of court, but Gonder says that he’s still owed millions of dollars for work he did on the subdivision.

Further changes to the design made by the government forced him to bring in and handle extra material, and there were delays.

In August the government demanded he stop work on a section of Casca Blvd., only to tell them to start back up 41 days later. That meant the company had to work in frozen conditions to meet its construction schedule. That delay alone cost $300,000, said Gonder.

It’s not the first time that he’s had this kind of problem with a government job, said Gonder, but it is the first time he’s taken it to court.

“I’ve walked away time and time again from $50,000 disputes knowing that YTG would just keep dragging out legal costs, but this claim is just too much for us to do that,” said Gonder.

Other contractors, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they’d experienced similar problems dealing with one-sided government contracts and frustrating negotiations.

The government is countersuing Norcope claiming that it refused to repair deficiencies in the water mains it installed.

But in May of 2012 the government gave Norcope a list of deficiencies that it took care of, said Gonder.

“Their consultant went through with our guys and we fixed everything that was videotaped, everything that was on the list of repairs, and they paid us our hold-back,” he said.

In court filings the government asserts the cost to repair the new problems will be substantial because it will involve ripping up paved roads and concrete curbs. But Gonder questions why the government would pave over underground utilities if it knew there were problems.

Because the case is now before the courts, no one from the government would respond to any specific allegations.

“The Yukon government, having become engaged in the court process, is going to make its arguments there and not in the court of public opinion,” said Thomas Ullyett, assistant deputy minister of justice.

It will be a long time before that happens. The case is scheduled for a 12-week trial in the spring of 2014.

The trial is a big waste of time and money, said Gonder.

“They’re spending millions of taxpayers’ dollars to debate me on that, rather than bringing in an engineer to identify the cost to do the work,” he said.

The government has retained a Vancouver law firm to represent it in this case, but Ullyett couldn’t say how much the case had cost to date.

“What the Yukon government is after, of course, is a resolution to this dispute that is fair and is reasonable and that will pay Norcope for all the work that has been properly performed and ensure that there is fair value for this pretty considerable expenditure of public funds,” he said.

Contact Josh Kerr at joshk@yukon-news.com