Landowner and engineer Jack Dalrymple claims the design of the Stepps Ford project is flawed and allows diversion of the Neosho River into and through other property he owns.

COMMERCE/MIAMI - Landowner Jack Dalrymple told the Ottawa County Commissioners (OCC) he was determined to see his riverside property restored after the construction of the new Stepps Ford Bridge left ongoing damages.

During the meeting, Ottawa County Assistant District Attorney Rogers Hughes acknowledged Dalrymple’s frustration over the situation.

“I want you to know I’m not frustrated. I’m just determined,” Dalrymple said.

A licensed engineer, Dalrymple's expertise has been sought many times professionally for input on county projects including the creation of Ottawa County's floodplain management policy. Dalrymple donated some acreage needed for the new Stepps Ford Bridge project.

Frustrated determination

He claims the design of the project is flawed and allows diversion of the Neosho River into and through other property he owns and uses to grow pecans and graze livestock. Dalrymple has documented the problems through photos and videos. He has made numerous Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests seeking documentation.

Dalrymple has contacted and spoken with or attempted to speak with the parties involved in the project including, the OCC, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT), U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, Guy Engineering, Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, Oklahoma State Representative Ben Loring, Garver Project Management and Construction Observer, the U.S. and Oklahoma Fish and Wildlife Service, the Ottawa County District Attorney’s Office, and Ottawa County’s Floodplain Administrator.

Seeking resolution for his claims, Dalrymple has approached the Ottawa County Commissioners for help many times since last December in person and by e-mail, phone calls and letters. Dalrymple told the commissioners he was not an adversary but was asking to partner with the OCC to solve the issues.

“I need a partner to solve these problems,” he said.

At his request, Dalrymple after the meeting was finally given the insurance information just last week for Guy Engineering, the design engineer on the project, and therefore the responsible party to rectifying the substantial damages.

Dalrymple has also raised concerns of the over a quarter million dollars and an additional $10,000 paid by Ottawa County Commissioners to fix issues caused by Guy Engineering’s design omissions.

There’s also concern over the water diversion in the area due to the existence of endangered species, the Madtom Catfish and the Neosho Mucket living in the waters there. Dalrymple is fearful the changes in water diversion has or will impact these species.

In frustration, Dalrymple asked to be put on the agenda for an Ottawa County Commissioners meeting to address and discuss his concerns and solutions to the issue.

Commissioners said little in response to Dalrymple’s concerns. Commissioner John Clarke did clarify the project was the responsibility of both Districts 1 and 2.

Guy Engineering

Since the meeting, Engineer John Blickensderfer with Guy Engineering met with Dalrymple offering two solutions to what he calls “ backwater effect” rather than the diversions of water.

“Well I’m reluctant to say anything, but some of the drainage issues, yes, I think partly are due to the design and construction,” Blickensderfer said in a phone interview Friday. “I have given him a couple of proposals on how to fix that, and I’m waiting on Jack Dalrymple’s response.”

According to Blickensderfer to construct the fix, either by building up the bank and or installing a one-way check valve, there would not be a need for further study before commencing.

“The drainage issue and the proposals I provided concerning those drainage issues don’t affect the Madtom because we’re not doing any work in the river,” he said. “The river is kind of flowing back up the ditch and then crossing into his property where we would stop that by putting in a berm type situation and what we call a flap gate, which allows the water to only flow towards the river, not back out in the river.”

Blickensderfer’s opinion of the riverbank erosion issue differs from Dalrymple’s.

“The bank erosion I believe is a naturally occurring thing. If you look at the river, there’s bank erosion occurring on both sides of the river upstream and downstream of the bridge. I don’t think any of that erosion is due to the bridge construction itself or the bridge design,” he said.

The original design for Stepps Ford Bridge was changed with a second set of plans adding shorter spans and two additional piers after the construction contractor was unable to move 145-foot spans into place. This resulted in construction delays, which cost $260,000, paid for by Ottawa County funds.

“Early in the design process, the bridge was designed with longer beam sections. They couldn’t get them there. We found that out during the design process, so we changed them back to 105-foot spans. The problem is in between the time the environmental requirements changed with the Madtom and the Neosho Mucket. So, when the additional piers were added that changes the impact to the river,” Blickensderfer said. “So, they had to reinitiate all the consultations with the Fish and Wildlife Service and that caused all that delay.”

Blickensderfer claims the issue falls within discovery, and therefore the financial responsibility of Ottawa County, versus Dalrymple’s claim that the issue was an engineering omission, and therefore Guy Engineering’s financial responsibility.

“Typically if it’s a normal expense that would have occurred anyway the County would be responsible, the owner, or who is paying for it,” Blickensderfer said. “Because if it was scoped originally at a 145-foot span and that was agreed by the County up front, and that was found that couldn’t work, that would be the responsibility of the County, not the consultant. In the engineering process, there’s a lot of discovery that occurs. Sometimes there are changes in design that occur due to environmental constraints, or discovery that occurs.”

The engineer does agree the water diversion or backwater issues onto Dalrymple’s property are the financial responsibility of Guy Engineering. The cost of the fix is not yet known until the landowner agrees to the proposal.

“I informed Mr. Dalrymple that we would pay for that,” Blickensderfer said. “Most of that work’s going to be in the County right of way not on his property, but I don’t want o put forth dollars to fix it if he’s not going to accept it.”

Blickensderfer said he could complete the fix in 30 to 60 days if and when a plan is agreed upon.

“A diversion of water I think is a very bad definition of what this is, it’s really a backwater effect. The water is backing up the ditch line,” Blickensderefer said. “Then it gets to a certain elevation, and of course sit’s going to flow across his property. A diversion kind of annotates you purposely diverted the water to go somewhere else; there was no purposeful diversion. The river is not being diverted, it’s backwater coming up the ditch line and gets to a certain elevation and naturally follows the low point.”

Blickensderfer said he has been trying to work with Dalrymple since the beginning.

“He’s an engineer. We get out there, and we talk and discuss things. He says things I don’t necessarily agree with, and I say things that he doesn’t necessarily agree with. You can’t get two engineers to agree 100 percent usually,” he said. “ We are not ignoring him. We are trying to address his issues.”

Landowner response

Dalrymple said later he would not approve of either of Blickensderfer’s proposals because neither addresses the complete problem, which includes items left off the plan in omission by the project engineer.

“If he’s not going to work on the river bank then nothing else is acceptable,” he said. “It’s really difficult to do it right and stay above elevation point 767, so that’s why they’re not going to work on the river bank.

“It’s an engineering mistake, and everybody makes them, and he made one, and you have to pay for it,” he said. “Any design that he comes up (with) that excludes repair and protection of the riverbank is not acceptable. He destroyed the riverbank so when you destroy something you have to fix it. The riverbank is still unstable because of the cant angle of the piers of the new bridge. The cant angle in the new bridge directs that water toward the east river bank, and it erodes on a daily basis, every single day.”

Dalrymple believes restoration and protective bank work needs to be completed.

“The plans say the riverbanks would be restored to their original condition after the construction of the bridge, so there’s a lot of restoration to be done,” Dalrymple said. “He broke it all, and he’s only willing to fix part of it. If I cause you to wreck your car and totaled it and I only agreed to fix the front quarter panel, you’re not going to be happy. He broke it all, and I want it all fixed. More than that I want the County to recover the $260,000 that they paid that they shouldn’t have paid and I want them to recover the $10,000 that they paid for the utility poles that they should not have paid. Those are all design flaws, and the citizens of Ottawa County shouldn’t be responsible for paying for an engineer’s design flaws. It’s not right.”

Melinda Stotts is the associate editor of the Miami News-Record. She can be emailed at mstotts@miaminewsrecord.com or followed on Twitter @MelindaStotts1.