Durham News

Durham City Council concerned about construction company with past violations

Charlie Reece
Charlie Reece

City staff members are gathering more information about a company they recommended for a road construction contract to after City Councilman Charlie Reece raised questions about its history of labor and safety violations.

“I have a real problem with this particular company,” Reece said of Burlington-based Triangle Grading and Paving Inc.

The city hasn’t awarded a contract to Triangle Grading and Paving since 2011, when Luis Castaneda Gomez, 34, of Durham and Jesus Martinez Benitez, 32, of Clayton died inside an 11-foot-deep manhole while helping to build a new section of Durham’s water system along U.S. 70 near the Raleigh border.

The N.C. Department of Labor fined the construction company $16,000 for what it determined were four serious violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of North Carolina. The citations say the men suffocated and that the company hadn’t taken proper precautions to ensure there would be enough oxygen in the hole.

At a Tuesday work session, Director of Public Works Marvin Williams and his staff recommended that elected leaders award a $5.9 million contract to the company to construct a new Carver Street extension from Danube Lane to the intersection of Old Oxford Highway and Hamlin Road. Triangle Grading and Paving was the lowest bidder on the project. The next-to-lowest bid was $86,250 more than Triangle Grading and Paving’s proposal.

“Awarding to Triangle Grading and Paving would demonstrate the city’s willingness to allow a company to work for the city again after having struggled, subsequently recovered, and is now performing well based on reference checks,” states a memorandum from Williams to City Manager Tom Bonfield.

The City Council plans to consider the contract Jan. 4, unless staff members can’t gather information that elected officials requested about the violations.

Reece expressed concern about the safety violation and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement fining the company for hiring illegal workers.

A Triangle Grading and Paving representative wasn’t present at the meeting. A person who answered the phone at its office declined to comment Tuesday.

Since the 2011 incident, the company has hired a safety director, put together a detailed comprehensive safety program and their incident rates has been equal to or lower than the industry standard, city staffers said.

Eric Marsh, a Public Works project manager, said the city checked 10 references in which the company worked with other governments, including Apex, Greensboro and the state. The conversations indicated the company did “great work” and went above and beyond to deliver the projects, Marsh said. Public Works also worked with the city’s Risk Management department to evaluate the company.

Reece, however, said he is concerned about the company’s track record and that it is among a group of companies that routinely submit the lowest bid for projects because they hire undocumented workers and don’t pay them properly.

“I have serious concerns about this vendor,” he said.

City Councilman Steve Schewel asked that when the item comes before the City Council on Jan. 4 that city officials provide more information on past labor and safety violations and fines along the company’s track record since those incidents.

Williams said he plans to suggest that a Triangle Paving and Grading representative attend the meeting to respond to the council’s concerns.

Virginia Bridges: 919-829-8924, @virginiabridges