Judge expected to rule on beach sand contract controversy today

By Lisa ZahnerINDIAN RIVER COUNTY — At noon today, Judge Paul Kanarek is scheduled to hear a complaint from Stormwater and Underground LLC, which was the apparent low bidder for the $7 million beach replenishment project awarded to Fort Pierce-based Ranger Construction by county commissioners on Sept 8.

On Sept. 10, an Orlando law firm for Stormwater and Underground notified County Purchasing Manager Jerry Davis that it was protesting the bid process. The petition made several allegations, naming Commissioner Peter O’Bryan specifically, and stating that the county had “arbitrary, capricious, unjustified and impermissible reasons for awarding the project to Ranger Construction.”

Ranger was given the go-ahead to work with staff on permitting paperwork to replenish the 6.5-mile stretch of beach from Treasure Shores Park north to John’s Island. The area is severely eroded and has been “in peril” since the hurricanes of 2004. Titusville firm Stormwater and Underground, which would have used the sand mine owned by Brian Davis, brother of County Commission Chair Wesley Davis, exclusively to provide the 26,000 truckloads of sand needed for the project, submitted a base bid of $7,068,022 and Ranger submitted a bas bid of $7,270,807. The “alternate bid” figures, which contemplated delays and possible complications or changes in the project which might be required for permitting, were $8,548,746 for Stormwater and Underground and $7,649,054 for Ranger. Stormwater and Underground’s sand was estimated to last for 13 years and Ranger’s was estimated to last nine years before the project would need to be repeated, based on normal erosion factors.

Purchasing manager Jerry Davis rejected the claims on Sept. 14, stating “Indian River County has wide discretion in accepting bids for public improvements. Please be advised that the Indian River County Purchasing Division denies your protest.”

On Sept. 15, then-Senior Assistant County Attorney Marian Fell (who was given notice of termination on Sept. 17 for budgetary reasons), received a summons on behalf of Chairman Wesley Davis or Vice Chairman Joe Flescher of the Board of County Commissioners. Davis had recused himself from the discussion and from the vote in this matter, considering that his brother was the major subcontractor for Stormwater and Underground.

Stormwater and Underground’s complaint asks for “prohibiting Indian River County and its Board of County Commissioners from entering into a contract for the project with any entity other than the plaintiff until the trial of this action and to award the contract to Stormwater and Underground.”

The contractor is also asking for costs and attorney’s fees related to the case.Officials other than the County Attorney are not expected to testify at the hearing, which was squeezed into Judge Kanarek’s schedule during what was the lunch break.

What all of this means for Indian River County and for beachside residents eagerly awaiting replenishment of their beaches is probably a delayed process. Engineers on the project said the required permits hinge upon the county and the contractor on the job working quickly and cooperatively to amend the permit applications.

At 3 p.m. today, the Beaches and Shores Preservation Advisory Committee will meet to consider the outcome of the court proceedings.

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