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Local contractor objects to low bidder in Mary’s River erosion project

MONTESANO — Rognlins was aced out of a lucrative multi-million dollar public works project, but says the bidding process was flawed and the winner of the project made mistakes in its bidding documents.

On Monday, the Montesano City Council met for a special meeting to consider Rognlins’ objection, but ultimately rejected the protest and awarded the contract to the low bidder anyway.

Rognlins, out of Aberdeen, had the second lowest bid to help shore up the erosion control project at Mary’s River Lumber as well as the city’s wastewater treatment plant on the banks of the Chehalis River. The Chehalis Basin Flood Authority had provided $6 million to do the project.

Out of five bids, Stellar J. Corp. out of Woodland had the lowest bid with a little over $4.6 million Next was Rognlins with $4.87 million, Quigg Bros. out of Aberdeen with $4.92 million, NOVA Contracting out of Olympia with $5.22 million and Candon-Johnson & Associates with $5.78 million.

Attorney Wayne Hagen says that the paperwork filled out by Stellar J. Corp. was incomplete. Attorney Jeremy Vermilyea with Stellar J. Corp. didn’t contest that some of the paperwork was incomplete, but told the City Council that the issues were just “minor irregularities” and cited state law and court cases that allows the city to ignore those issues and move forward with the project.

On a 3-2 vote, the Montesano City Council voted to award the contract to Stellar J. Corp. anyway. Council members Chris Hutchings, Pam McElliott and Rich Klinger voted to award the contract. Councilmen Pat Herrington and Lyle Powell voted against it. Councilwoman Marisa Salzer was present for the vote but abstained because the city forgot to provide her with an American Sign Language interpreter and Councilman Ken Walkington was stuck in traffic on Interstate 5.

Hagen says that the contractor does have the right to appeal the matter in Superior Court.

“For the sake of the community and understanding the importance of this matter, Rognlins has chosen to waive its right to appeal,” Hagen said. “They have worked with Montesano before and hope to work with the city in the future. They could appeal, but they don’t want to do that.”

Hagen said that the concerns still stand, however.

The bidding documents for Stellar J. Corp. don’t accurately list the corporate name of the electrical contractor. Vermilyea says the contractor just forgot to put the word “Inc.” behind the name of the electrician they’ve worked with for 15 years.

The top of the bid bond form was incomplete and unsigned. Vermilyea said that other areas of the form is complete and the bond was enclosed.

The bidding instructions required company officials to state they would follow the federal Equal Employment Opportunity provisions. Although the paperwork didn’t contain those promises, Vermilyea said the company would stand by them.

Company President Bob Kinghorn said that the firm has a new woman doing the paperwork. She took over for his wife after her retirement. Kinghorn apologized for the mistakes.

Vermilyea said that some of the form was confusing.

But Herrington, who works for the state Department of Motor Vehicles and makes a living following forms, says that’s no excuse and that the bid should go to Rognlins.

He noted that Stellar officials never asked questions about the forms when they could have.

“Does Stellar J. Construction make a habit of not completing out the documents? Is that corporation practice to omit that?” Herrington asked.

“No, but we didn’t think we needed to,” Vermilyea replied.

“I work with documents all day everyday, and when I work with documents that need to be completed and it includes a blank space that I’m supposed to include numbers and a signature then I do that,” Herrington said.

Stellar J. officials were also required to disclose that they had a court judgment found against them and was involved in other lawsuits and the construction firm didn’t do that. Vermilyea argued that the city required a “pattern of failing to meet contracts” and the company doesn’t have a pattern. There’s just the one judgment in appeals court, which was a conflict between Stellar J. and a subcontractor. Rognlins also pointed to issues involving the city of Shelton and Cowlitz County.

Vermilyea noted there is a pending lawsuit in Cowlitz County involving a contractor of Stellar J’s. The lawsuit has not resulted in a judgment. In Shelton, “there were some disputes,” but the issues were resolved, Vermilyea said. Stellar J. is also suing in two other cases, Vermilyea disclosed to the council.

Before making its decision, the Montesano City Council went into executive session. But Councilman Hutchings questioned the need for an executive session, which took the dialogue between council members out of the public spotlight.

“Why would we? I’m not really sure why we need to go into executive session,” Hutchings said. “I know we’re permitted, but I don’t know if we have a reason why we should.”

City Attorney Dan Glenn argued that the city was subject to litigation by Rognlins or Stellar J., depending on the council’s decision.

Glenn said it was “about subjecting risk and the benefit” of public discussion versus being behind closed doors and talking about the issue. After the 15-minute executive session, Hutchings was the only one to make a public comment about the case. Everyone else had apparently said their piece in executive session.

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