County risks wastewater project funding


ALAMOSA — Rather than going with the lowest bidder, Alamosa County Commissioners voted to recommend the Mosca wastewater infrastructure improvement project be awarded to Cooley and Sons Excavating, Inc. during yesterday's meeting. The United States Department of Agriculture still has to approve the commissioners' recommendation before it can be awarded.

However, it is uncertain that will happen because Cooley is not the lowest bid. Robins Construction's bid was the lowest at $834,655 while Cooley's bid was $4,674 higher at $839,329.

The USDA, who is funding the project with roughly $800,000 in grants and $159,000 in loans, strongly recommends that the lowest bidder be selected. If not, they could withdraw their funds completely or force it to go out to bid again.

"With the timing on this project," said Alamosa County Commissioner Helen Sigmond, "we don't have the time to rebid. My heart goes out to Cooley, too, however, I wouldn't want to risk the project getting derailed on failing to pick the lowest bidder that the USDA is looking for."

Sigmond did not second the motion and voted against the decision while commissioners Darius Allen and Michael Yohn voted for it.

"We always preach 'local, local, local," Allen said. "You can't get any more local than a guy with an address in Mosca. They pay taxes in Alamosa County and employ in Alamosa County."

Robins Construction, on the other hand, is based out of Antonito in Conejos County.

Yohn agreed it was not practical for the timeline if rebidding occurs but he also saw selecting Robins as rushing.

"Alamosa County residents are the ones actually using the system," Yohn said. "It is in their backyard. With the donations they've made to the county, besides the taxes, and to the schools, to the university, we should go with them."

Alamosa County Administrator Gigi Dennis added Cooley has given the county 40,000 yards of material in the past to use as road base.

The USDA allows for other bidders to be chosen if the bidder is irresponsible or unresponsive. Allen and Yohn believed that they could form an argument to justify not going with Robins while Sigmond disagreed.

"Robins has met the basics and the recommendation of [engineer Martin] Reynolds," Sigmond said. "It's hard to say they're not responsible or reliable."

While the projects only differ in $4,674, Reynolds warned that the difference could increase due to variables in dewatering. While the majority of line items on the bid sheet are static, the estimate for dewatering is based on a geotechnical report done last year.

"We think it's going to be a pretty accurate number," Reynolds said, "but it's one of those things that I have no control over. If the groundwater is just a foot higher, that's another thousand feet of pipe. You're going to be paying $60,000 for that same item."          

Cooley lists $30 per foot while Robins estimates it would cost them $2 per foot.

Any delay in the project could increase the cost as well. "We want to do it when the water is low," he said. “If it get's pushed into the spring, that dewatering cost could go up in a hurry."

Commissioners hope to award the bid at the next meeting on July 26 so that construction can begin on August 1.

"If we don't hear back [from the USDA] before July 26, I'll place my vote for Robins Construction," Allen said.