Thursday, March 29, 2012

Prescott awards airport runway contract to low bidder

 PRESCOTT - In the wake of legal questions and the threat of a lawsuit, the Prescott City Council opted this week to award the contract for an $8 million airport runway improvement to the low bidder.

In a 6-0 vote on Tuesday, the council chose A. Miner Contracting to do the federally required safety upgrade at the Prescott Airport.

The decision came after more than an hour of discussion, during which the council heard from an attorney for the low bidder, who earlier had said he was prepared to file suit over the matter, as well as the second-lowest bidder, who had questioned the validity of the low bid.

Jeffrey Adams, the attorney representing low bidder A. Miner, of Prescott, maintained that his client deserved the contract because the company had bid about $1.1 million less than his closest competitor, and had "jumped through the hoops" required by the city.

"There's no reason this contract should not be awarded today," Adams said, referring to the earlier suggestion that the council might re-bid the project. "The city's done its due diligence."

But Mike Fann of Fann Contracting, the second-lowest bidder, questioned whether the contractors were all on a "level playing field" during the bidding process.

Although noting that he would support whatever decision the council made, Fann maintained that he had complied with all of the requirements of the bid specifications, while he said A. Miner had not.

For instance, Fann said his bid satisfied the requirement that his company - as the "prime contractor" - would perform at least 50 percent of the project work. He compared that with A. Miner's bid, which he said showed that subcontractors would do about 52.7 percent of the job.

Fann also brought up concerns about his competitor's adherence to the federal Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) criteria for hiring subcontractors. He maintained that noncompliance with the two factors gave A. Miner an advantage during the bidding.

Adams contended, however, that A. Miner had already demonstrated that the company would comply with the 50-percent requirement, and that the DBE level was a goal, not a requirement.

City Manager Craig McConnell reported that city officials had conferred with representatives of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) earlier Tuesday about the status of the runway project - a discussion that had shed light on the matter.

Based on the continued review, McConnell said it appeared that the reported issues were not serious enough to disqualify the A. Miner bid.

"In the spectrum of bid irregularities, some are fatal," McConnell said, adding that A. Miner's irregularities "could be corrected."

But Mayor Marlin Kuykendall questioned the flexibility in the process. "If there's adjustments that can be done after the project is started, then why have requirements (in the bid specifications)?" he asked.

Councilman Steve Blair - noting that the FAA had endorsed the A. Miner bid - pushed for awarding the contract to the low bidder.

"We have a contractor that is legitimate," Blair said. "Why would we go through the effort of re-bidding... if the federal government says, 'We don't care?'"

The city opened the bids on Nov. 30, 2011, after which the contents became public information. The bids included: A. Miner, $7,890,410; Fann, $8,997,654; Asphalt Paving & Supply, $10,069,339; and CSW Contractors, $11,084,549.

Soon after the bid opening, Fann sent an email to the city questioning several details of A. Miner's contract.

While officials initially estimated that the runway project would be under construction by December, the legal questions delayed the award of the contract for several months. Prior to this week's public discussion, the matter had twice appeared on council executive-session agendas.

On Friday, Adams reported that his client Al Miner was prepared to sue the city, if the contract went to another company.

With Tuesday's decision, the contract will move once again toward construction, although officials were uncertain on Tuesday when the work would begin.

Among other things, the "runway safety area" improvement project involves relocating 400 feet of the main runway (the end closest to Highway 89), and adding it to the other end to ensure a full 1,000 feet runway safety area on the highway end.

The city previously accepted FAA grants that will pay for much of the project cost.

Councilman Charlie Arnold declared a conflict of interest on the matter and did not participate in the discussion or the vote. Arnold noted that he owns Southwest Development Consultants, which represents Chino Valley's Bright Star company, of which Fann is part owner.

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