BY ERIN MILLER | WEST HAWAII TODAY
Kirkland Construction is either "great to work with" or "abusive," the company's subcontractors say.
Kirkland, based in Rye, Colo., won the $33 million federal contract to excavate about 10 miles on Saddle Road from about mile marker 41.5 to a new intersection with Mamalahoa Highway at about mile marker 14.
On the negative side, Arlen Yost, owner of Waterloo, Iowa-based OMJC Signal Co., took Kirkland to court in 2006, after Kirkland officials refused to return temporary traffic signals they'd rented from OMJC.
Rocky Ryan, owner of Colorado Crush Inc., has worked with Kirkland on about eight jobs in the last 20 years. "They're great to work for," Ryan said. "They pay their bills. They're super people."
The way Yost and OMJC's Keith Niehaus recounted their situation, Niehaus offered Kirkland the chance to purchase the equipment, instead of just renting it. Niehaus said that would have been cheaper, but Kirkland officials declined the offer. After several months of paying the rental fees, the checks stopped and Kirkland officials claimed OMJC had been "made whole," Niehaus said, because Kirkland had paid more in rental fees than the purchase price would have been.
Because the contract was a rental contract, Yost traveled to Colorado to reclaim his equipment. Kirkland employees called the police to prevent that from happening. Yost also visited Kirkland's president, James Kirkland, to ask to settle the situation.
"I walked into his office and confronted him," Yost said. "He said, 'We've got our attorney. You get yours.' We were a fledgling business. We didn't want to go to court. ... His perspective is to muscle (subcontractors). He has muscle, he has money."
Kirkland's attorney, Rick Ranson, described the situation differently. It was a simple contract dispute, in which the Colorado court system ultimately decided in OMJC's favor. He described Yost and other OMJC officials as "holy rollers" and "nutcases" who were difficult to work with.
The court ordered Kirkland Construction to pay OMJC the rental fee for the duration of the two-and-a-half-year legal battle, about $159,000, Yost said.
Russell Clark, president of Clark Land Surveying, took Kirkland to court over a much smaller figure after a 2003 project near Colorado Springs, Colo.
"If you get a contract with Kirkland, you're going to get beat up financially," Clark said. "With their subcontractors, they typically are abusive financially."
Clark claimed Kirkland has a reputation for bullying contractors and for ordering extra work, then trying to get out of paying for it. Working with Kirkland nearly put him out of business, he said.
Ranson brushed off Clark's comments, noting the small amount, about $1,200, over which Clark took the company to court. Of all the different types of subcontractors, Ranson added, surveyors are likeliest to initiate a dispute over payment.
"The people in this part of the country need to do business with you a lot," Ranson said. "The companies that beat up their subcontractors have a difficult time getting jobs."
Kirkland works primarily on government projects, said Kirkland official Rhonda Newmeister. It has worked on road and bridge projects in Colorado, New Mexico, the Virgin Islands and Texas. Founded in 1964, Kirkland employs about 100 people year-round and 200 to 250 during the high construction season, she said.
Ranson added the company, for whom he has worked for a quarter of a century, is known for doing good work.
"Kirkland has a reputation for being one of the most efficient excavators ever," he said.
Ryan questioned negative comments about the company.
"Probably what's happened is they're not doing their job," he added.
Kirkland Construction finished an airport runway project in Archuleta County, Colo., "on schedule and on time," Airport Manager Bill McKown said. "It was a little under budget. ... Everybody on the team was superb."
Construction on the Saddle Road project was slated to begin in August, but the Central Federal Lands Highway Division did not award the contract until Aug. 23. A spokesman for the division contacted for comment on Kirkland's performance during other federal projects was unable to provide information to West Hawaii Today Wednesday evening.
The Colorado State Attorney General's office had one consumer complaint against Kirkland on file. A spokesman for the office said those complaints are confidential and information about the complaint could not be released.