West St. Paul awards Marie Avenue bid

Full street reconstruction along Marie Ave. in West St. Paul is back on track to take place this summer. (Jesse Poole/Review)
Full street reconstruction along Marie Ave. in West St. Paul is back on track to take place this summer. (Jesse Poole/Review)
The $2.19 million Marie Avenue improvement project includes full street reconstruction from Charlton Street to Livingston Avenue. (Jesse Poole/Review)
The $2.19 million Marie Avenue improvement project includes full street reconstruction from Charlton Street to Livingston Avenue. (Jesse Poole/Review)

Project marred by ethics debate

Despite roughly a month-long delay, full street reconstruction along Marie Avenue — from Charlton Street to Livingston Avenue — will begin this summer.

Following a contentious vote to rebid the project, the West St. Paul city council awarded the bid to Danner Inc. at a special meeting June 29. The council voted 5-1 in support of the $1,828,908 bid from Danner Inc., with council member Jenny Halverson dissenting and several reluctant supporters criticizing the bidding process.

Spring bidding hits snag

After receiving only two bids from prospective project contractors in April, city staff discovered the one from Danner Inc. was disqualified due to a document missing from the company’s bidding proposal.

Mayor David Meisinger vetoed the council’s decision at the May 19 meeting to award the bid to Bituminous Roadways.

In a letter explaining the veto, Meisinger attributed his decision to the responsibility he felt to seek a competitive bid that could translate into tax savings for residents and businesses.

He told the Review in a recent interview, “We received one bid, basically. It’s always been the policy of the city to get at least two to three bids. We’ve never given away projects with one bid before.”

Addressing the paperwork lapse that knocked Danner Inc. out of the bidding process in April, city attorney Korine Land explained that the documentation was a new state requirement and a number of area contractors and cities had been misinterpreting when it was due — failing to submit it with their bid solicitation because they assumed it would be due later, when the bid was awarded.

Minnesota’s new “responsible contractor” law went into effect Jan. 1. In compliance, contractors are required to submit a signed document for any construction project bid worth more than $50,000 to confirm that they are free of certain violations of wage and hour laws, among other criteria.

The mayor’s veto didn’t sit well with council members Dick Vitelli, David Napier and Pat Armon, who all voiced discontent at the May 26 meeting. Although they said they would have preferred to honor the initial $2,033,357 bid from Bituminous Roadways, which was not only properly submitted but also came in under the city engineer’s estimates, they failed to override Meisinger’s veto.

Rebid results

“I’m not happy about the process, how it went down,” Vitelli said at the June 29 special meeting called to vote on the bids. “I feel we did an injustice to Bituminous Roadways.”

The project opened for rebidding June 23 and four contractors submitted figures, all of which came in below the engineer’s estimate.

With its initial number revealed, Bituminous Roadways chose not to rebid on the project, citing frustration with the competitive disadvantage of a rebid.

Danner Inc. was given another opportunity to bid on the project and accepted it, coming in more than 17 percent less than the city engineer’s estimate and more than 10 percent less than the first-round low bid by Bituminous Roadways.

“Staff has no issues awarding to Danner Inc., based on past experience,” public works director Matt Saam told the council.

‘Unethical situation’ according to council member

Before the council voted to award the rebid to Danner Inc., Halverson, who was absent from the May 26 meeting, called it an “unethical situation.”

“Just to be clear, I’m not saying that the council has done anything wrong here. I think there’s some questions about the process and I think there’s some questions about conversations that I believe the mayor had with who we’re awarding this to in the interim period between it being rejected and then rebid,” she said at the special meeting.

Asked what he discussed with Danner Inc. during this timeframe, Meisinger told the Review he had simply called to verify Danner Inc. could fill out the form they had failed to submit last time. He said they didn’t discuss numbers. 

“I’ve been in construction for 25 years. I know the industry. I put that to use and I saved the city $204,000,” he said, noting the difference between the initial bid from Bituminous Roadways and the rebid awarded to Danner Inc.

A spokesperson for Danner Inc. could not be reached for comment.

Regardless of what was said during Meisinger’s phone conversation with the representative for Danner Inc., Halverson told the Review, “I still think it’s inappropriate for the mayor to be influencing the bidding process at all.”

Last-minute negotiations

Prior to the vote at the special meeting, Vitelli said he’d like to explore a last-minute alternative to the Danner award.

“Due to all the things that went on with this bid, could we award to the second [lowest] bidder, Eureka, for this project, stating the [discomfort] we have with the appearance of collusion, or whatever you want to call it, with Danner?” he asked Land.

Legally, she responded, the council is required to award the project to the lowest responsible bidder. The city would need compelling reasons to bypass Danner Inc.

Napier repeated his ethical concerns about the rebid, but said he felt he had to set aside his misgivings given the urgency of the project.

“I’m going to support it only because this project has to happen this year,” he said. “I think if we wait, it would have to wait until three years from now because I wouldn’t do it at the same time we did that section of Robert Street.”

Full street reconstruction

The $2.19 million Marie Avenue improvements project is part of the city’s ongoing annual street improvements program. According to the project’s feasibility report, published Jan. 26, it will consist of a full street reconstruction from Charlton Street to Livingston Avenue, with limited water main replacement, sanitary sewer rehabilitation and storm sewer improvements. It also includes a new pedestrian trail, new street lighting and Marie Avenue Pond dredging.

The roadway was constructed in the 1970s, and over years of wear, the pavement has deteriorated with potholes and large cracks. Project planners proposed narrowing the reconstructed roadway to 36 feet to allow for two driving lanes and a bike lane on either side.

Construction was originally slated to begin June 1. Despite the delay in the bidding process, the project is still expected to be completed this summer, before the fall deadline.

Per staff recommendation the council also declared an assessment amount of nearly $325,000 for property owners along the affected frontage. That amount comprises about 27 percent of the total city’s bonding cost.

All residents will receive notice of the exact amount of their property’s assessment fee and a public hearing on the matter is scheduled for mid-July.

Erin Hinrichs can be reached at 651-748-7814 and ehinrichs@lillienews.com. Follow her at twitter.com/EHinrichsNews.

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