The city of Pangburn and water and sewer department are "getting traction" in ongoing litigation against the company that built its water treatment plant, according to Mayor Michael Marsh.

At its Tuesday meeting, the Pangburn Water Board Commission discussed the legal suit against Davis Construction Co. of Harrison, which the city has accused of not finishing the plant in 2014 to Arkansas Department of Health standards.

"This has been a long, drawn-out thing," Adam Whitlow of Whitlow Engineering Services Inc. in Searcy.

"It [the litigation] is glacial speed," board member Beth Bell said, "and that's hard to explain."

After the city decided to take legal action against the construction company, according to Water Manager Shawn Hughes, $428,000 left over from the $3.5 million project was locked down because of the litigation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which funded the project.

Ever since the money was locked down, Hughes said "it's been one thing after another" with the plant, and the board has had to "pony up the money" to keep things in shape since its engineer, Michael Clayton, "turned his back on them" by refusing to communicate or acknowledge everything that was wrong with the plant.

"Everybody wants to kind of point fingers. Everybody just needs to understand that you're on the same team," Whitlow told the board Tuesday. "Y'all want it resolved just as much as everybody else does."

According to Hughes, the water department has three years left to do something with the money from the USDA.

Concerns regarding the water treatment plant were raised following five boil orders being issued between August 2015 and September 2016, leaving residents questioning the safety of their water.

According to Hughes, Davis Construction failed to fix, replace or finish approximately 200 items that were wrong with the facility, and as a result, several issues have cropped up with the plant since its construction.

The city wanted to use the locked-down money to request qualifications for an engineer to come in and collect the necessary data to act as an expert witness in the litigation process.

"That's the only way we can go through litigation is with an engineer that knows how to run a treatment plant," Hughes said. "Even though we have gathered tons of data of our own that shows all the discrepancies and the bad workmanship, our attorney feels that it's best that we have somebody -- a professional engineer that has experience with a treatment facility like ours."

Engineer John Selig of Civil Engineering Associates in Jonesboro has since been brought in and, as of Wednesday, went over the necessary documents but has not issued a report.

According to Hughes, Selig described it as a lot of documentation to go through and that a lot of the information is "redundant."

"He said that he's never seen documentation like that," Hughes said. "Anybody that has a professional background in water and wastewater and has looked at [the plant] and if they look at the workmanship, they're just shaking their head."

Selig would still have to be approved through the board before being hired, but Hughes believes that "won't be a problem."

"He's the perfect guy for the job," Hughes said. "He has all the necessary qualifications."

According to his company's website, Selig has "extensive experience" in the design, planning and construction of water treatment facilities, water storage and distribution systems, and wastewater treatment.

"We wanted to get someone in as a true expert," Whitlow said. "Someone who actually had good experience with water plant design."

When asked why he doesn't take on the task, Whitlow said he doesn't have the necessary qualifications.

"I'm kind of functioning as their on-call services each year, but for litigationwise, I don't have as much plant experience," he said. "I mean, we've done some modifications to water plants and stuff in the past, but I've never designed a plant from ground up.

"Although I'm helping to facilitate some stuff, they [Selig] are going to function as our true expert."

Selig also has experience in the preparation of necessary documentation required for "funding applications for municipalities and special districts."

"The money is not there to hire an expert witness in the litigation," O'Neill said. "However, and this is the clever workaround, that money can be used for improvements to the water plant.

"If we can get the money released to hire an engineer to make improvements to the plant, through the process of him going through and making those improvements it will qualify him as an expert witness."

According to O'Neill, Selig can then take the stand and testify to the deficiencies he encountered while making the improvements. "It's a very clever way to get an expert witness," O'Neill said.

According to Hughes, further discussion on this issue will be at the Pangburn City Council meeting Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. and he's hoping for a solution.

"The plant is not to spec," he said. "The plant is not to what we paid for. We paid for it, the customer paid for it and we're standing up for that customer."

Pangburn Water Department

What: 'Getting traction' in litigation

Against: Davis Construction Co. of Harrison for reportedly not completing water treatment plant to standards

How: Jonesboro engineer brought in Wednesday to go through documentation

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