Trinity Forest Golf Course Contractor Hits Dallas with $1.2 Million Lawsuit

A city of Dallas contractor hauls fill dirt from an excavation pit to the site of the Trinity Forest Golf Course in September 2014.
A city of Dallas contractor hauls fill dirt from an excavation pit to the site of the Trinity Forest Golf Course in September 2014.

It's not easy, turning a few hundred acres of environmentally contaminated landfill in a long-neglected semi-rural pocket of southern Dallas into a top-of-the-line golf course. But Dallas does not do things because they are easy; it does them because they seem world-class. And so, three years ago, Mayor Mike Rawlings and golf legend Lee Trevino unveiled their joint vision for what would become the Trinity Forest Golf Club.

Since then, the project has encountered several hurdles. Pesky copses of trees and native grasses blocked access to needed fill dirt. This dirt — several hundred thousand tons of it — was inconveniently located on the opposite side of Loop 12 from the planned golf course. The massive trucks needed to haul the dirt kicked up large amounts of dust, which had to be hosed down even though the only readily accessible body of water was a wetland pond that provided habitat for beavers and rare migratory bird species.

The city plowed through these obstacles, but not without cost. In its haste, Dallas wrecked an environmentally delicate swath of the Great Trinity Forest and thoroughly pissed off several dedicated environmental watchdogs. It also got itself crosswise with a contractor, DCI Contracting Inc., which last week filed a lawsuit against the city claiming $1.2 million in unpaid bills.

DCI submitted a winning bid of $2.4 million in May 2014 to provide a "vegetative support layer" on the Elam and South Loop 12 landfills, atop which the golf course will sit. Other firms had performed engineering studies and sealed the dumps with a 2-foot-thick clay cap; DCI's job was to dig up 600,000-plus cubic yards of dirt, haul it across Loop 12, and dump it in designated fill areas where a firm paid by the private Company of Trinity Forest Golfers would form it into the desired shape. (Rawlings and others had pledged that the city's taxpayers would pay only for remediation, not construction of the golf course.) 

According to records obtained by the Observer, a few weeks after signing the final contract, DCI discovered, or claimed to discover, that beneath the 15 feet or so of easy-to-excavate sand and clay was a layer of limestone they would also have to dig up if they hoped to get enough fill material for the golf course. For this they might need to haul in specialized equipment, which caused their cost estimate for the project to increase by upward of $200,000.

The city resisted. Than Nguyen, the city engineer overseeing the project, pointed out in an email to DCI Vice President David Proctor that bore samples and other technical data included in the bid documents clearly identified the presence of limestone. "I have review (sic) the plans and spec book for this and feel that additional compensation for rock excavation is not justified ...This was not an unforeseen existing condition and your proposed cost is unreasonable also."

An aerial view of the future Trinity Forest Golf Club
An aerial view of the future Trinity Forest Golf Club
U.S. Fish and WIldlife Service

Proctor countered in an email the following day that, regardless of what the supporting materials said about limestone, the project descriptions repeatedly and more or less exclusively referred to excavating and transporting "dirt," not rocks. "Thus, our view at bid time was hauling 'dirt only,'" Proctor wrote.

Nguyen recapped all of this in a brief he emailed to Trinity Watershed Management assistant director Jennifer Cottingham on the eve of a scheduled visit from DCI's owner. He appears to blame at least some of the confusion on a rushed bidding process caused by pressure to get work started on the golf course: 

The bidding phase for this project was at an extremely fast paced schedule. Originally, the City was going to pay for the engineering design through a design contract to be awarded on the March 28th council agenda. In order for the construction award to be approved by council on May 28th, the engineering design would have to be completed by March 29th (1 day after council approval) based on our bidding schedule as the City would not approve any improvements through council until the $20M was met by the golf developer.

As a result, the golf developer hired the engineering firm the City was going to use for this; Pacheco Koch, as they spend about $150K of their own money. The developer did this to expedite the construction schedule. We awarded the engineering design contract to Pacheco Koch on April 9th for Elam Road, Loop 12 improvements, and Water Transfer Line.

During the bidding phase for this Vegetative Support Layer, we did not get the geotechnical report and boring logs until a day before the construction plans were issued. The grading plans were done by Pacheco Koch but were developed by the golf developers (since they paid for the design and the City provided a borrow source only) as it was based on the volume of borrow soils needed by them. The developers didn't realize they were going that deep into limestone until afterwards. The boring logs were shown in the spec book and plan sheets cross section; see following pages. The technical specs in B-14 describe how limestone was to be processed. 

He also notes that the city has already hit its "$2M cap" for the project approved by the City Council (the other $340,000 for the contract came from the Company of Trinity Forest Golfers) and that any extra costs would have to be paid by the golf course developers, who weren't interested. "They claim that the other 2 bidders accounted for the rock excavation in their higher bids and that DCI talked to them (before the project started) on how they were going to address the rock in construction. The golf developer's stance is that the plans and specs are clearly shown and no payment will be made by them."

It's unclear from the documents, which only go through the summer of 2014, how the city and DCI moved past their disagreement over the limestone. Suffice to say that it didn't stop excavation work, as it was a DCI pump that Trinity watchdog Ben Sandifer found perched on the edge of the wetland pond, which had been almost completely drained. The city blamed a "contractor" for draining the pond but never said which one.

The lawsuit doesn't provide much context for DCI's claim, asserting only vaguely that, "Despite having instructed DCI to perform the work, being fully aware of the work performed, and being invoiced by DCI, DALLAS has refused to pay DCI for the work it has performed." Some of this probably had to do with the rock excavation, but that wouldn't account for all $1.2 million in damages claimed.

Neither DCI nor the city responded to requests for comment Friday.  

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