Give Miami International Airport director more contract control, commissioner says
By Lou Ortiz
In a move designed to bring more efficiency to expansion of the North Terminal at Miami International Airport, a county commissioner wants to allow the airport director to approve cost overruns and change contract times and terms.
"I'm trying to save money where we can and make it more efficient," said Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz about his proposed ordinance that would give county Aviation Department Director Jose Abreu more freedom in shepherding the $2.85 billion project.
Since taking over the Aviation Department and the project in 2005, Mr. Abreu has had to regularly appear before the Airport & Tourism Committee and the county commission for approvals for changes in the demolition and renovation of the existing facilities.
The committee and commission appearance are often all-day affairs for Mr. Abreu and his staff. That time, some commissioners have said, could be better spent by Mr. Abreu.
Waiting for approvals slows the construction process and "delays cost money because contractors can't do their jobs, then it all backs up," said Mr. Diaz, chairman of Airport & Tourism Committee.
"Our trust is with him [Mr. Abreu], but he's as good as his ability to manage," Mr. Diaz said. "My goal is to run this project as a well-oiled machine."
The proposed ordinance would allow Mr. Abreu to execute change orders, extend contract times and modify contract terms without commission approval, including waiving reviews by the committee.
"The North Terminal development is an extraordinarily complex project involving new construction and demolition and renovation of existing facilities," the proposal says.
The ordinance "would allow the more efficient construction and faster payments to contractors and subcontractors, restoring confidence in the project in the contracting community."
The massive project lacked clear plans and direction, when the county took over the expansion from American Airlines in 2005.
The project includes 48 international and domestic gates, two regional gates, 242 ticket counters, an automated people mover with four stations, a baggage claim system with conveyors totaling 9.5 miles that can handle 45,000 bags a day, security checkpoints and concessions.
Mr. Abreu and his staff had to decipher and sift 90 construction and professional services contracts for the expansion that American Airlines left behind.
After an extensive review of the 90 contracts, the department has gone ahead with 30 of them and plans to add 16 more.
But activating contracts has been a piecemeal, painstaking process.
"I'm having to go back and explain these contracts one at a time," Mr. Abreu said in a recent interview. "But explaining this thing is not easy."
Besides the proposed ordinance, commissioners will gather in June for a workshop on the remaining terminal contracts.
"The other thing we're doing is that huge meeting in June," Mr. Diaz said.
At the workshop, the aviation department will outline individual contracts, the costs of each, those completed and contracts that were not activated.
The proposed ordinance to give Mr. Abreu more authority passed on first reading April 22.
If approved by the commission, the measure would sunset on Jan. 1, 2011 or earlier, depending on whether the expansion has been substantially completed.