Low project bid raises concerns

Sunday Times Newspapers

WYANDOTTE – Council members are usually more than happy to accept the lowest bid from contractors for a given project.

But when the lowest bid is a fraction of those from other companies, it can cause concern.

That was the situation Monday when Wyandotte Municipal Services representatives presented for council approval its choice for a contractor for phase one of a three-step baghouse installation project. The lowest-bidder, Minneapolis-based Barr Engineering Co., bid $12,900 for the phase, which includes mostly engineering functions for the device, which will filter debris from the plant’s Boiler 7.

The next lowest bidders, Kansas-based Black & Veatch Corp. and Kansas-based SEGA Engineering & Technical Services, each bid $68,750, and Exothermic Engineering LLC., of Missouri, bid $173,372.

Some councilors voiced their concerns that the lowest bidder was capable of doing the job, part of a recent consent agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency resulting from WMS’s violations of the Clean Air Act.

“It’s not a low bid, it’s substantially lower,” Councilman James DeSana said. “I just can’t see how someone in this day and age would take that kind of loss.”

But WMS Assistant General Manager James French said he checked with all bidders to make sure they understood the scope of the project and could take it on. WMS has worked with the firm several times in the past and currently has an engineering service agreement with it. French said he has no doubt the firm can handle the project.

“They planned to take a loss on this project,” French said. “Their philosophy, as they explained it to me, was ‘we want to be in the front door of this project’ because they think it will give them a competitive advantage when we go out to bid for the remainder of the engineering for this project.”

French said the phase of the project would normally run about $50,000 to $70,000.

General Manager Melanie McCoy said she and French debated the merits of accepting the lowest bid and ultimately decided it was in the city’s best interest.

“It was one of those areas where we said, ‘How could we recommend the second bidder and be looking at all that extra cost that we are gonna pass on to all our citizens?’” McCoy said. “So that’s why we thought it was a great opportunity for us.”

Other concerns were raised that the low bid could result in numerous change orders or in specifications in the first phase that no other company can fill later on.

Councilors agreed to hold the request in abeyance for a week to invite the engineering firm to discuss its bid with them.

“If this passes, it’s going to be watched very closely,” DeSana said. “And there better not be a change order. If there’s a change order to that bid, something’s not right.”