Montgomery County has revoked a key permit from a WSSC contractor involved in a number of Bethesda sewer and water projects.
But as of Wednesday, the contractor hadn’t moved from its staging area on Elm Street, incurring 15 citations with fines for as much as $750 each from the county’s Department of Permitting Services.
It’s the latest controversy surrounding Metra Industries, the New Jersey-based sewer pipe contractor chosen by WSSC to lead its Bradley Boulevard pipe replacement project. Due to multiple leaks in the replacement pipe, Metra has had to re-excavate large portions of the road, leaving Bradley Boulevard a jumbled mess of uneven pavement and steel plates and pushing the project past its scheduled completion date.
On April 18, after a series of complaints from the neighboring Edgemoor community, the Montgomery County Department of Permitting Services revoked Metra’s right-of-way permit to use the pedestrian-only area of Elm Street.
“We were finding that we weren’t satisfied with the way they were maintaining the site,” said Diane Schwartz-Jones, director of Permitting Services. “We weren’t satisfied with the way they responded to our directions about dirt being tracked on to the right-of-way, the way their use of the right-of-way had expanded to include moving some other staging activities there. We just hit a point where enough was enough.”
Judy Gilbert Levey, president of the Edgemoor Citizens Association, said Metra has been using the area as a staging ground for at least a year. The neighborhood’s concerns with how contractors were treating the formerly grassy patch goes back almost as far.
The Elm Street pedestrian-only path is a connector for Edgemoor residents to downtown Bethesda. It stretches from Glenbrook Road to Exfair Road. Metra’s heaviest excavation machinery, some pipes and a porta-potty are in a fenced-in area on Glenbrook Road.
“The place looks terrible. They put a dumpster there and it was piling up trash. Some neighbors have observed rodents scurrying in and out of there,” Levey said. “We understood the work done in our neighborhood was necessarily going to be messy and inconvenient. But this was not consistent with what the permit allows.”
The citizens association also raised concerns that Metra was using the staging area for other projects around Bethesda, not just pipe replacements done in the Edgemoor neighborhood.
In October, WSSC representatives met with the group and pledged to find a solution within 60 days, Levey said.
“WSSC reps came to our citizens association and said we’re going to get them out of there,” Levey said.
WSSC spokesperson Jerry Irvine said the utility was well aware of problems with Metra. He referred back to comments made last week about the contractor’s performance on the Bradley Boulevard project.
In those comments, WSSC director of communications Jim Neustadt acknowledged that Metra hadn’t met its contractual requirements and that picking Metra because of its lowest bid status might not have been the best approach.
“We are aware of the issues with this contractor and we’re working with them,” Irvine said.
A Metra employee who answered a phone call to the contractor’s New Jersey corporate headquarters said the company doesn’t make comments to the press.
The revoking of the right-of-way permit required the contractor to leave the site and restore the site to its pre-existing condition. That has led to multiple citations on each day this week and thousands of dollars in fines from the Department of Permitting Services.
The citations will go to the Office of the County Attorney, which will attempt to enforce the penalties in District Court, Schwartz-Jones said. If the contractor hasn’t moved and restored the staging area, the county will also ask the court for an abatement order.
If Metra fails to move at that point, Schwartz-Jones said the county can go to the court for a show cause order. Beyond that, the county could pull the bond that secured the restoration of the Elm Street right-of-way.
Schwartz-Jones said she doesn’t anticipate getting to that stage. A permit has been issued by Montgomery Parks for Metra to stage in a parking near Little Falls Parkway.
“We think they’ll be moving soon.”