After a monthslong stalemate, Mat-Su Borough settles snow removal overage bills

PALMER — A trio of snowplow contractors who last year declined a Matanuska-Susitna Borough offer to settle millions of dollars in overage bills for a fraction of their total have now opted to accept the payment after officials threatened to block them from future contracts.

The bills were filed by the contractors for work clearing snow pushed from private properties into roads during the snow-heavy 2022-23 season.

The settlement pays the three companies about 20% of their original bills, which totaled over $3.5 million. It also requires that they file no such invoices for the current winter season.

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Matanuska-Susitna Borough roads are maintained by six private contractors working in 16 road service areas. Work is funded by property taxes. Five of those contractors submitted $7.1 million in additional invoices last summer for time spent clearing snow from private properties off roads, which they said was beyond the scope of their contracts.

Two of the five contractors accepted a borough settlement when it was initially offered last year. But officials with Wasilla-based Big Dipper Construction and Big Lake-based Ficklin Construction and Spain Excavating did not because doing so could put them out of business or force crew layoffs, officials there said. Instead, the companies attempted to negotiate with the borough to recoup the money they spent on the extra work, the contractors said.

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But those negotiations were ultimately rejected by the borough, the contractors said.

Instead, borough officials this month told the contractors they could accept the settlement or be banned from competing in any new borough contracts, including seven road service area contracts out for bid this month, the contractors said.

While not being reimbursed for their full invoices has caused financial distress, no longer holding any borough contracts would bring financial ruin, officials with each company said.

“We ended up signing – we didn’t want to, but we also have $4 million worth of equipment that we spent years getting to perform these contracts,” said Todd Minnick, who owns Big Dipper Construction. “From a financial standpoint, it was a really hard decision to make. And to be honest with you, we got tired of chasing old money with these guys.”

Borough officials said the settlement was designed to acknowledge the impact of inflation on the contractors’ ability to cover their costs.

“The Borough never agreed contractor claims had merit in the amounts they claimed,” Borough manager Mike Brown said in an email. “However, settlements acknowledge increased costs for older contracts pre-dating the pandemic and inflation.”

Amy Bushatz

Amy Bushatz is a veteran journalist based in the Mat-Su covering Valley news for the ADN.