MONTESANO — The Montesano City Council rebuffed its Main Street contractor, opting to go with Aberdeen-based Rognlin’s last week on a new directional drilling public works project. Now, Olympia-based South Bay Excavating is alleging city officials led a conspiracy to ensure the local contractor had an upper hand.
This is all happening at the same time South Bay Excavating is suing the city for not making timely payments on the state-funded Main Street project. It’s still not clear what’s not finished with the project. The city of Montesano has not yet released those documents to The Vidette, despite a public records request submitted on Jan. 2. Mayor Ken Estes says it’s a lot of minor details such as curbs and drains, but all of it was required to be done in the contract.
South Bay Excavating, which is still finishing up aspects of the downtown Main Street paving project with a crew out last week, had been the low bidder on the drilling project the first time around with a bid of $214,469. That was just $135 higher than Aberdeen-based Rognlin’s. Some members of the council criticized the Olympa firm and the council voted to reject all the bids and try again.
This time, Rognlin’s came in as the low bidder at $209,212. South Bay actually increased its bid and ended up last of four bidders at $235,519. Rognlin’s was awarded the contract.
Rod Hudson, with South Bay Excavating, protested — in writing — the original decision by the Montesano City Council back on Dec. 13. Mayor Estes replied he was forwarding the letter to the city attorney for review.
A week after Hudson’s request to have the council reconsider its decision, the city sent the directional drilling project out for bid to 20 potential contractors. In the re-bid documents, the city included the previous bids for the project so that the contractors could clearly see what South Bay had bid the first time.
When Hudson saw what was happening, he protested again in an email to the mayor.
“I was surprised about this after seeing your response to my letter in which I had requested that council reconsider their decision,” Hudson wrote the mayor. “Did you know this was going back out to bid? Was the city going to respond to my letter?”
Estes replied back that the “threat of litigation has caused me to be very cognizant of legal advice” and the re-bid notice went out before the city attorney could get back to him.
On Jan. 13, South Bay officially protested the re-bid for the water distribution project, alleging “the city violated the statutes for competitive bids on a public works project and that the city has intentionally damaged South Bay Excavating through slander and by manipulating the public bidding process in order to hire a local contractor.”
Hudson followed up the protest letter with a four-page supplemental letter, where he alleged that Howard, a former Rognlin’s supervisor, decided to give the local contractor the upper hand. The primary issue, Hudson notes, is that the city was mad about the pace of the Main Street project yet Hudson says that many of the problems on the project “were the result of many errors and omissions in the plans and specifications because of city leadership.” Hudson sent a seven-page letter to council members back in November detailing all of the problems. South Bay Excavating has requested the city provide specifics as to their gripes, but Hudson says the city hasn’t provided anything. Hudson says the city has never investigated South Bay’s complaints.
“It is the intent of the laws which govern public works to remove any appearance of unfairness or corruption on behalf of the public officials,” Hudson wrote to the city. “The city is not complying with the intent of the public works law because it can now be said that it appears you have manipulated the competitive bidding process to create an unfair advantage to a local contractor.”
The letter alleges that the city mandated a gravel barrow be used on the Main Street project to be used before paving was done on the ripped up downtown road back in August. However, the city then rejected the gravel — but still used it on a different public works project. Howard blamed South Bay and its contractor for providing bad rock.
“At the time this statement was made, Mr. Howard understood that the design of the roadway was completely inadequate and would need to be redesigned,” Hudson wrote. “As part of the redesign, the gravel barrow previously placed would need to be removed so that 18 inches of native soils could be removed to make way for the 26-inch depth rather than the 8-inch depth called for in the plans.”
After The Vidette ran a story last fall expressing Hudson’s viewpoint, the letter states, “Rocky Howard retaliated and threatened to have Rod Hudson removed from the project because he had gone to the editor. The editor attended the weekly meeting, which infuriated Mr. Howard. Mr. Howard has continued to retaliate with the intent of bringing harm to South Bay by slandering, withholding payment, walking out of meetings and making false reports to the mayor and council about South Bay’s performance on the project.”
Mayor Estes said on Friday that he is “absolutely confident in the work of Rocky Howard.”
Estes also praised the work of the city’s contracted engineer, Parametrix.
“Steve Schmitz was our engineer and Rocky Howard acted on behalf of the city to make sure the Main Street contract was followed to a T and I have the utmost confidence in Rocky’s work here and I don’t think the problems are as bad as Mr. Hudson spells out,” Estes said. Hudson, who attended the Montesano City Council meeting on Jan. 13, didn’t speak to the council and the council never asked him any questions.
After a closed-door executive session to discuss “pending litigation,” council members returned and awarded the contract to Rognlin’s and rejected South Bay’s objections.
“They filed a protest but they didn’t really detail a list of concerns that I could evaluate,” Councilman Chris Hutchings said.
“I’m looking at this protest letter, and where did we violate the statutes for competitive bids?” Councilman Ken Walkington questioned. “They’re not being specific.”
City Attorney Dan Glenn agreed that South Bay was not being specific enough in its protests and he disagrees with the contractor’s assessment.