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City engineer Tony Kinder, project manager for riverfront repairs, second from left, talks with, from left, Shane Loyd of the RLS Group, Dan Garza of HDR Engineering and city engineer Mark Heinzer at Ross's Landing in 2011. Work to repair the 21st Century Waterfront is to begin this week.

A decade after it was unveiled, officials say Chattanooga's showcase $120 million waterfront will soon stop sinking.

Repair work on the city's 21st Century Waterfront -- the legacy project of former Mayor Bob Corker and centerpiece of the downtown renaissance -- will start Tuesday, according to Chattanooga Public Works Administrator Lee Norris. Completion date for the project is May 1, 2015 -- some 16 days ahead of the Ironman Chattanooga 70.3 triathlon, which will pass over the waterfront.

The repair will have crews driving large metal sheets into the bedrock beneath the lowest step of Ross's Landing to help keep the Tennessee River from further eroding the foundation of the waterfront.

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Faulty construction and a lack of oversight on the project and a porous earthen wall allowed river water to leak into the foundation soil and wash parts of it away. This caused the concrete supporting the waterfront to crack, allowing more water to pass through. Since the project was finished in 2005, sections of Ross's Landing have sunk as much as 6 inches.

Norris said the metal sheeting will do a better job of keeping water from seeping underneath the concrete steps, and the city will do a better job of ensuring the work is inspected.

There will be three sets of eyes on the reconstruction, Norris said.

"We are doing all of that inspection in-house now; we will have our own inspectors going to look at the project along the way," Norris said.

In addition, the city paid HDR Engineering a total of $800,000 to design the rebuild and provide engineering services throughout the project.

But Norris said the contractor hired to do the $5.7 million repair, Smith Contractors, has experience working underwater, and he doesn't expect any issues.

"That's their forte, working in the water. They have worked all over the Mississippi River," he said.

Initially, the repairs were estimated at $9 million. But Norris said those plans included expanding the docks and adding a marina building with restrooms and meeting space.

"We down-scoped most of that. The other money was for additional projects," he said.

Lacie Stone, spokeswoman for Mayor Andy Berke, said Thursday there were no plans to add to the waterfront aside from the repairs.

The official start date for construction was Dec. 3, but transportation issues have kept the barges that contain the metal pilings from arriving on time.

If the contractor doesn't meet the May 1 completion deadline, the company will be charged $3,000 per day in liquidated damages, Norris said.

The erosion issue is not the first snag the revitalization project hit.

Early on, inspectors found that a contractor installed wiring on the project that was not meant to be used underwater. Those repairs were completed, to the tune of $3 million, under the administration of former Mayor Ron Littlefield.

That first repair sparked criticism over handling of the massive construction project -- including work on The Passage, a water feature near the Tennessee Aquarium. A lawsuit between the city and project partner River City Co. ensued, along with questions about what the city knew and when.

The city claimed it was not made aware of improper construction practices until 2007, clearing the name of Corker, who was by then a U.S. senator. But court records showed the city knew about bad wiring and shifting concrete as early as 2004. At that time, Corker adamantly denied any knowledge of the building bloopers.

The revelation of the earlier notification resulted in the lawsuit being dropped because the statute of limitations had expired. The city also lost an appeal of the case.

However, despite the large price tag and costly repairs, the waterfront project was still a good move, according to the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce.

Chamber Vice President of Economic Development Charles Wood said in an email Friday since the waterfront revitalization and the building of the Tennessee Aquarium, more than $1 billion in public and private money has been invested downtown.

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at lbrog don@timesfreepress.com, @glbrogdoniv on Twitter or at 423-757-6481.

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