Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Area News

August 7, 2012

County must reject bids, rebid Visitor's Center project

CROSSVILLE — Cumberland County officials recently discovered the county must re-bid the Big South Fork Visitor's Center project before Oct. 1 of this year or the federal eligibility for the visitor center project will expire. The county must also have an updated environmental document before funding for the project can be re-obligated.

Cumberland County Mayor Kenneth Carey Jr. reported the news to county commissioners who attended a work session July 24.

The news came via letter to Mayor Carey from Neil Hansen, enhancement coordinator with the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT).

"First of all, due to the delay in moving to the construction phase, the federal funding was de-obligated at the request of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) in May of 2009. Based on the Local Programs Office understanding of this de-obligation, it was our assumption that the original obligation date and environmental clearance document date were still valid. Unfortunately, when the project was de-obligated, it was not communicated to the local programs office that an updated environmental clearance document would be needed in order to re-obligate the funding based on the need for an updated obligation date," the TDOT letter states.

During its May meeting, the Cumberland County Finance Committee approved Johnson Builders for the project in the amount of $555,100. Prior bids have been rejected because they were in excess of the county's budget on the project.

Although the project has been bid several times, none of the bids are acceptable due to federal guidelines on the project. The letter states the county did not follow guidelines because the bidders did not complete the forms accurately.

Cumberland County was sent the letter after the finance committee accepted bids on the project and the project was forwarded to TDOT for its review and approval.

"It was determined by TDOT's review of the bid tabulations that none of the apparent three lowest bidders were deemed responsive. This was due to the bid form not being completed properly per federal rules and regulations. Basically, instead of inserting a dollar amount greater than zero, several individual line items were either left blank or marked N/A. This is a situation that cannot be rectified by each bidder after the bids were publically opened. Thus, all bids will need to be rejected and the project must be re-bid after obtaining an updated environmental clearance document and federal funding authorization," the letter states.

"In addition, the option of replacing the awarded federal enhancement funding with state funds does not relieve the county's obligation to follow all state and federal rules and regulations pertaining to the bidding process: each of the three (3) apparent low bidders would still be deemed non-responsive," the letter continues.

"Lastly, there seems to be some confusion as to the DBE goal that was placed on the project construction. Once a goal has been established for a federal-aid project, the goal must be met or exceeded by the construction contractor based on his initial bid. Therefore, Cumberland County will not be able to award the contract based on this second bid. Due to the recent passage of the new Transportation Bill (MAP-21), the federal funds must be obligated prior to Oct. 1 of this year. After that date, the federal eligibility for visitor center projects expires," the TDOT letter concludes.

Since no action can be taken during a work session, the county commission will have to address the situation in a future, public meeting.

The Crossville Chronicle was not given a meeting notice of the work session from the county mayor's office due to an oversight in the office.

However, county commissioners were sent a meeting notice.

Commissioners who attended the meeting included Harry Sabine, 1st District; David Hassler and Johnny Presley, 3rd District; Allen Foster, 4th District; Joe Koester, 5th District; Larry Allen and Terry Carter, 6th District; Mike Harvel, 7th District; Jeff Brown, 8th District; and Carmin Lynch, 9th District.

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