SALEM — Salem Harbor Footprint has cut ties with its lead contractor building the billion-dollar natural gas power plant.
Scott Silverstein, chief operating officer of Footprint, said the company ended its engineering, procurement and construction agreement with Iberdrola Energy Projects on Sunday after a history of issues with the project.
"They didn't complete the project by the deadline," Silverstein said. "That fact, and other contractual issues and disputes between the parties left us with no choice but to terminate the contract."
Footprint — and area residents — hope the change also means more timely information on how the work might impact neighbors.
"I hope whoever has come in will actually communicate better and make sure things aren't running at midnight," said Carlton Street resident Joanne Kennedy.
Iberdrola Energy Projects, headquartered in Bilbao, Spain, headed up the project since early 2015. The company was initially tapped to build the plant and lead its array of subcontractors because, Silverstein said, they were "really looking at this project as being a showcase for the efforts in the United States market."
But Silverstein said the interest in that market faded soon after Iberdrola and Footprint inked their deal.
Silverstein declined to shed more light on the "other contractual issues" behind the falling-out. Iberdrola didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
Burns & McDonnell, headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri, will now oversee the project. The company has been working on the plant in the background since December, which Silverstein said will allow for a smooth transition in project leadership.
"They've been gearing up, getting ready for this type of eventuality," Silverstein said. "We never knew if we'd have to do it, but we wanted to make sure we had somebody there capable on a moment's notice to come in."
As of Monday, Burns & McDonnell is "on site, in force and picking up where Iberdrola left off," Silverstein said.
Kennedy said she was "cautiously optimistic" about the news. Since construction began about three years ago, work on the plant at the intersection of Derby Street and Fort Avenue has caused noise and vibration problems for area neighbors and their homes.
"But given how things have gone so far," she said, "I'm not really getting my hopes up so much."
That was in part echoed by Ward 1 City Councilor Bob McCarthy.
"We stressed a lot with Scott that anything they'll be doing will be more upfront," McCarthy said. "It's a major construction project. There's always going to be issues, and it seems like this one has had a lot of issues."
Earlier this month, residents complained of noise similar to a jet engine coming from the plant late at night. It turns out, the noises were unintended, caused by a problem with one of the systems.
But it took two days for the public to learn about the cause of the problem – that part of the system had failed, but the result was a backup unit doing its job.
"The issue Iberdrola ran into particularly the last time was trying to stop and start during the night-time hours," Silverstein said. "And when they had an issue, they didn't address it immediately, address the underlying issue, and they didn't get the information to us to get out to the neighborhood.
"Those are the things we hope to put an end to here, as well as to ensure we have timely completion of a safe and reliable plant."
Victory Road resident Paul Luzinski wasn't surprised to hear there was a change in contractor. He could tell something was going on at the plant, he explained.
"Since that big thing on Wednesday a couple weeks ago, I noticed that it seems like the plant was running very quietly, and I actually videotaped 30 seconds where there was steam billowing out of the stack, and it seemed quiet and good," Luzinski said. "Then, it stopped — and it has been very quiet over there for the past week."
Silverstein said he is confident residents will see an improvement in communication now that Burns & McDonnell is in charge.
"The issues we've had in the neighborhood were the subject to the first conversation I had with Burns & Mac yesterday after notice was given," he said, "to make clear that this needs to be a priority."
Silverstein declined to give a date for the completion of construction at the plant, except to say that the company hoped the plant would become operational "in the near future." Further work meanwhile — including exterior details, landscaping and more — will continue through to December.
Kennedy said she was hesitant to celebrate when hearing the company's hope for construction to end "soon."
"That remains to be seen, to be honest," she said. "I hope (the change in contractor) means there will be better communication, and I hope it doesn't mean it will drag on even longer."