Former firehouse contractor files lawsuit against City of Wewahitchka

The city of Wewahitchka was served last week with a breach of contract lawsuit filed by Winterfell Construction, the contractor previously hired to build the city’s new fire station.

The complaint was mistakenly served to the City of Port St. Joe, and Michelle Jordan, Wewahitchka’s attorney, said the city will be moving to quash due to improper service in the coming days. The city has until May 10 to respond.

Winterfell’s lawsuit, which was filed in the Bay County Circuit Court, comes months after the city terminated their contract with the construction company over concerns regarding the quality and pace of the firehouse’s construction. 

In the complaint, Winterfell claims Wewahitchka breached the contract, citing arguments that city processes significantly slowed or hindered the progress of the firehouse project and that Winterfell feels the contract was wrongfully terminated.

“The city and its representatives continually interrupted the subject project by instructing Winterfell to perform outside of the terms and conditions in the contract,” reads the complaint.

The construction company went on to allege that the city failed to sign necessary change orders in a timely manner, if at all, and that the city’s concerns over defective workmanship “would not prohibit the completion of the project.”

Winterfell also served the complaint to Southeastern Consulting, the engineering firm working with the city on the project.

Wewahitchka terminated their contract with Winterfell in January after months of conflict between the city commissioners and Winterfell’s owner, Bay County Commissioner Tommy Hamm. 

Discussions about the quality and progress of the firehouse’s construction first surfaced in November, 2021. The city declared the contract to be in default in mid-January, citing concerns over the building’s concrete slab and the installation of the firehouse’s siding and roofing.

At the city’s Jan. 27 meeting, when the contract was terminated, Wewahitchka’s mayor Phillip Gaskin got into a heated exchange with Hamm.

“Oh, we’re going to be sued?” asked Gaskin.

“I will sue for breach,” Hamm responded.

“Well, we have an attorney, and insurance too,” Gaskin said.

In the months that followed, Wewahitchka’s City Clerk Rachel Jackson was able to secure a time extension for the project, which previously needed to be completed by April in order to receive funding from FEMA.

At the city’s April 28 meeting, Gaskin said that while he could not comment on the progress of the firehouse at this time, the project was moving forward.

“We really can’t talk about that, but I will say that we’re making progress,” he said.

The firehouse’s bonding company asked for Wewahitchka’s commissioners to go over the signed and unsigned change orders for the projects so that they can move forward with finding a new contractor.

Winterfell did not respond to the Star’s request for comment in time for publication of this story.

Meet the Editor

Wendy Weitzel, The Star’s digital editor, joined the news outlet in August 2021, as a reporter covering primarily Gulf County.

Prior to then, she interned for Oklahoma-based news wire service Gaylord News and for Oklahoma City-based online newspaper during her four years at the University of Oklahoma, from which she graduated in May with degrees in online journalism and political science.

While at OU, Weitzel was selected as Carnegie-Knight News21 Investigative Fellow among 30 top journalism students from around the country. She also was senior editor managing a 12-person newsroom in coordination with Oklahoma Watch, a non-profit news organization in eastern Oklahoma.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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