Apex Directional Drilling President Mike Lachner shows some of the sand found at the Martin Slough project site.


Looks like the sewage has hit the proverbial fan on the long-delayed Martin Slough Interceptor project, a multi-million-dollar wastewater system upgrade co-financed by the City of Eureka and the Humboldt Community Services District.

Apex Directional Drilling, an Oregon-based company hired to install a pipeline under Pine Hill, near the Eureka Municipal Golf Course, just announced that it is abandoning the project. The company blames the city and the engineering firm it hired — SHN Consulting Engineers — for allegedly misrepresenting the type of soil it would find at the project site. Expecting stable dirt, Apex instead found sand, according to a press release.

In a March 12 letter to the city, Apex outlined the troubles it had encountered. “We burned up mud motors, had multiple attempts to get back to the original bore profile … and basically tried every trick in the book,” the letter states. “Water and flow sand was all we got. The hole collapsed several times because it was only sand … .”

Apex claims that SHN Consulting Engineers “improperly designed the drill path” and violated “all accepted industry standards” in determining the soil profile at the site. And negotiations with the city have evidently failed. In a March 20 letter to the city, Apex accuses the city of defaulting on its project agreement.

The company says it is leaving drill steel equipment at the site in case the city wants to use another company to complete the project. Basically, Apex is claiming that Eureka officials forced the company’s hand.

This could spell big trouble for both the city and the Humboldt Community Services District. The Martin Slough Interceptor project has been planned for 35 years. It’s designed to alleviate stress and increase capacity by creating a more direct route to the wastewater treatment plant near the Elk River interchange.

We’ll update this story as we learn more. In the meantime, here’s the press release:

Due to an impasse with the city of Eureka, Apex Directional Drilling announced today its decision to cease work on the Martin Slough force main project, part of the overall effort to upgrade Eureka’s wastewater infrastructure.

The Oregon-based company was hired as the general contractor on a portion of the overall multiyear project, primarily to provide horizontal directional drilling services. Horizontal directional drilling, a method for installing utility pipe using underground horizontal drilling techniques and equipment, is an alternative to using traditional trenching methods. 

According to company officials, the soils at the job site were very different than had been represented by the city and its engineering firm.

Apex President Mike Lachner said, “We accepted this job based on the understanding and assurances that the soil was stable and would support a bore of the length and diameter specified. However, shortly after beginning the project we discovered that the area consisted primarily of sand. Anyone who’s dug a hole at the beach understands the difficulty of digging and supporting a hole or a tunnel, especially one that would need to be 42 inches in diameter, in sand. It is not stable and therefore prone to collapse.”

After utilizing a range of tactics, including adjusting the drilling path and switching to the lightest tooling possible, and despite advising the city and its engineering firm multiple times of the conditions and problems encountered along the way, Apex subsequently completed a pilot bore – the first of many steps in horizontal directional drilling. After completing the guide hole, the company informed the city the original plan would not work and proposed alternate plans to complete the project. The company also offered to absorb a significant portion of the cost overruns associated with the unanticipated soil conditions. When the city declined the offers, Apex made the decision to cease its work on the project.

“This was a very hard decision for us because we have never failed to complete a project,” Lachner said. “While the city’s actions remain unclear and somewhat puzzling, we have nevertheless chosen to leave our drill steel equipment on site in the pilot hole – at an approximate cost to us of $150,000 – in the event the city chooses to attempt to complete this project with another company. We deeply regret the inconvenience and unnecessary expense incurred by the Eureka community on this project, but, given the circumstances, we believe this was the only viable option for our company.”