A statewide trade association sent a letter to St. Charles Parish President V.J. St. Pierre expressing outrage after the parish tossed out four of the six bids received for the first phase of the Willowridge Levee.
The Surety Association of Louisiana (SAL), which is a professional organization representing the interests of surety underwriters, bond agents and their principals, lambasted the decision by St. Charles Parish. The president of the association, Cullen Piske, said he believes the parish may have violated the law when they dismissed the bids.
The bids in question were thrown out because they did not have a counter signature. The parish asked for the counter signature, but a blank to sign was not provided in the paperwork the companies received.
Shailendra U. Kulkarni, legal affairs officer for SAL, said in the letter that the signature was not needed under law, although it used to be necessary under a law that was repealed in 2001. He said the lack of a counter signature should not have factored in to who was eligible to receive the multi-million dollar bid.
“A countersignature would be meaningless, yet it is precisely because of a contractor’s alleged failure to obtain this meaningless signature that the Parish rejected its bid. Louisiana courts have held that clerical omissions concerning irrelevant bid terms such as this cannot serve as a basis for rejecting a bid,” he wrote.
After the four bids were rejected, the St. Charles Parish Council awarded a contract to Southern Delta Construction, LLC to perform the work for $5.8 million. Kulkarni said the $1.1 million difference between the project’s apparent low bidder, Hamp’s Construction, and Southern Delta Construction will fall on the taxpayers.
“The actions of the Parish were decidedly unfair. Moreover, it should not be forgotten that the biggest victims of the Parish’s wrongful administration of the Willowridge bid process are the people of St. Charles Parish,” Kulkarni wrote. “In rejecting their low bids of qualified contractors, the Parish has awarded the Willowridge contract to a contractor, which by definition, cannot do the work for the lowest possible price.”
Buddy Boe, St. Charles Parish chief administrative officer, said the way the bids were handled was approved by both the state Department of Transportation and Development and the Corps of Engineers.
“We feel, just like from the very beginning, that was the way to do it based on legal advice. Everybody giving us money for the project said it was OK and they didn’t want to invest in a bad project,” he said.
However, Boe did add that the bid documents were based on outdated information.
“Moving forward we understand that some of the documents are outdated,” he said. “We are taking a proactive approach and fixing it moving forward, but we feel comfortable with not only our decision, but ultimately the council’s, that the actions were legal and fully within the public bid law.There could probably be some documents revised to be in line with current state statutes.”
St. Pierre said the problems with the Willowridge Levee bids are an aberration in comparison to past bids.
“We have never had any problem with our contracts until we hit this one. We are looking at it and we are having a professional look at it,” he said. “DOTD said it’s OK, our lawyer said it is OK, the lawyer they hired to handle the levee issue said it is OK.”
In addition, TKTMJ, one of the bidders that was disqualified from the process, decided not to pursue an injunction against the parish to stop the bid from being awarded to Southern Delta Construction.
“It took a long time to get to this point with that levee and I was sure happy when they decided not to file an injunction because that could delay us a long time,” St. Pierre said. “We are moving forward. Our objective is to get the whole West Bank levee designed.”
Construction on the levee is expected to begin in January.The first phase will consist of clearing and grubbing the right of way and construction of a 5.5-foot-levee berm from Peterson Canal to an existing berm behind Willowridge Drive.