T’Sou-ke First Nation is taking legal steps to ensure subcontractors will get paid for the work they did on the band’s Tim Hortons-Petro Canada development.
The First Nation is mired in unpaid bills, suits and countersuits, and facing angry subcontractors still not been paid for work.
But the T’Souke’s economic development manager said the First Nation is facing unfair criticism.
“The T’Sou-ke Nation has done nothing wrong here. We did everything right and have worked hard to get this project done, both for the First Nation and for the community,” Jeffrey Frank said.
“The situation is terrible for the subcontractors who haven’t been paid. We’re doing everything we can to deal with the situation.”
The problems can be traced back to PetromaxX, the general contractor hired by the T’Sou-ke First Nation to construct the building that now houses the Tim Hortons and the Petro-Canada gas station at 6080 Sooke Rd.
PetromaxX is a national petroleum contractor specializing in the project management and construction of gas stations as well as convenience and branded food stores.
The problems started to surface last spring when it was obvious the planned March opening date would not be met.
“They (PetromaxX|) missed some deadlines, and it seemed to us that they should be pushing harder,” Frank said.
“Around June 4, we started getting calls from sub contractors saying they hadn’t been paid. It raised concerns. We’d paid our bills (to PetromaxX) so I called them and asked why they had submitted declarations that the sub-trades had been paid when they hadn’t.”
The non-payment of the sub-trades were unusual since the First Nation was receiving statutory declarations from PetromaxX that outlined the work it claimed had been done and attested to the payment of the sub-trades.
Frank said around the same time, the T’Sou-ke started seeing inconsistencies in change orders to the project.
“They started adding money to the process without approval. It was ridiculous what they were asking for. I paid out the amount we had approved, but said, ‘no more’.”
But Blake Larson, director of business development for PetromaxX, took issue with Frank’s claims.
“It’s not true. We submitted progress draws and were paid, and we paid the subcontractors. That’s the way it works.,” Larson said.
That claim was disputed by Frank, who asked why, if that was the case, there are receivables going back to February 2019 and before.
Rob Tournour’s company, Rob Tournour Masonry, was one of those sub-trades.
“We submitted our first invoice in February and paid in March, but our next invoice for more than $100,000 wasn’t paid. We were told that it was because the First Nation wasn’t paying its bills,” Tournour said.
“Whoever is responsible here, it’s hurting the sub-trades. For some people, this is a big hit.”
Tournour said he believes there are 14 sub-trades in Sooke owed money.
The First Nation still has about $270,000 in hold-back funds available for the project, but the situation has degenerated to the point where Frank and the T’Sou-ke have lost confidence in PetromaxX and are refusing to pass the money to the general contractor.
“Our fear is that if we gave it to them, they’d do the same thing and the subcontractors wouldn’t see a dime,” Frank said.
Instead, the First Nation has petitioned the court to take the money to ensure that it is apportioned appropriately. The petition will be heard by a judge later this year.
“We understand that there’s still about $600,000 owing to various contractors and suppliers,” Franks.
“We feel strongly that we have a duty to the community to ensure that local contractors get paid, and we’ll do everything we can to make that happen. In the end, it seems we hired the wrong general contractor.”