Only One Bidder For Town’s Sewer Project Has Officials Perplexed

Mitchell & Stark Construction was the lone bidder for the Crothersville Wastewater Improvement Project following a bid opening last Thursday evening at Crothersville Town Hall. The Medora based firm bid $3.3 million for the work, more than a half-million over the engineer’s estimate of $2.73 million.
The fact that the lone bidder for so much over the engineer’s estimate and that 12 other firms had obtained big packets but did not submit a bid had the town council, engineers and grant writers scratching their heads and shrugging their shoulders on what was next.
The work is to be paid for in part by a federal grant and loan to be paid back by local sewer rate payers. The town has been under the gun by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to eliminate sewer overflows caused by a combination of storm and sanitary sewers flowing to the wastewater treatment plant.
In times of heavy rainfall, all of the water flowing to the plant cannot be treated and some sewage is bypassed and allowed to flow down Hominy Ditch.
With 12 firms showing interest in the project and purchasing plans but only one firm submitting a bid caught officials off guard. The economy is sluggish, companies are supposed to be hungry for work. So why such little interest in the Crothersville project?
“This is a bit of a surprise with only one bidder,” said Trena Carter of the grant administration firm ARa of Columbus. “We may have to re-bid and ask for an extension of time on the start and completion date.”
“But if we re-bid (in hopes of getting more bidders) what do we take out?” questioned town engineer Brad Bender of FPBH of North Vernon. “Do we stay with a chlorine system and not convert to a UV (ultra-violet) system? Do we not touch the oxidation ditch? And if we do re-bid it is no guarantee that there will be more bidders for less of a project.”
“What is in the interest of the town residents is competition,” said council president Ardell Mitchell. “What was it that scared off eleven other bidders? Was it the tight construction schedule? Working through the winter? Completing the job on time? We need to understand why we only got one bid,” said Mitchell who is a project manager for Harmon Construction in North Vernon.
(For the record, Harmon Construction did not obtain a bid packet and was not one of the 11 firms showing interest in the project.)
Carrie Riley of ARa reminded the council that in order to award a contract funds must be on hand. “So do you have that extra money available?”
Including the six optional deductions for portions of the project that may be handled in-house or bid later only dropped Mitchell & Stark’s bid to $3.1 million, still $400,000 over the engineer’s estimate.
“We may have to re-bid or show that we have $400,000 to put toward the project,” said Mitchell.
The council president asked clerk-treasurer Nalona Bush to quickly review the town’s accounts and determine if there was $400,000 available to be transferred.
The town council was reluctant to take action on the bid but because of a looming Aug. 31 deadline, decided to award the bid to Mitchell and Stark pending approval of additional funds.
“We have to proceed as planned to meet the federal timeline and then consider our options,” said Bender.
Wastewater Utility superintendent Mason Boicourt encouraged the council to not trim the US 31 storm water re-route from the project as a cost saving item.
Much of the storm water property along US 31 south of the town limits drains into the town’s sewer system.
“If we can get the storm water off the system, we have no problems with overflows,” said Boicourt.
Mitchell instructed the town engineer to make contact with the non-bidding companies to see what it was that caused them not to submit a bid.
Mitchell and Stark is the firm which built the local sewer plant about 25 years ago.