Spokesman for the federal agency says staff is looking into options to enable it to proceed with project
After two bids for the Lido Key Hurricane and Storm Damage Reduction Project came in significantly higher than the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) had anticipated, the federal agency is considering how best to proceed with the initiative.
In an Aug. 12 email, USACE spokesman Trisston Brown told The Sarasota News Leader, “We are still looking at options to award the project. Unfortunately, we don’t have more information at this time, but will contact you when we do know more.”
On July 30, the USACE opened the bids submitted for its Lido solicitation. While the USACE had estimated the cost of the project at $14,149,000, the lower bid was $22,135,100. The higher offer was $27,195,725.
As a result of the high bids, on Aug. 9, the USACE published a formal document on the Federal Business Opportunities webpage where it had advertised the Lido solicitation. That document said, “SOLICITATION IS HEREBY CANCELLED.” It added, “Two bids were received for this solicitation at unreasonably high prices; therefore, all bids are rejected pursuant to [Federal Administrative Rule] FAR 14.404-1(c)(6).”
FAR 14.404-1 says, “Preservation of the integrity of the competitive bid system dictates that, after bids have been opened, award must be made to that responsible bidder who submitted the lowest responsive bid, unless there is a compelling reason to reject all bids and cancel the invitation.” Section (c)(6) adds, “Invitations may be cancelled and all bids rejected before award but after opening when … the agency head determines in writing that [a]ll otherwise acceptable bids received are at unreasonable prices, or only one bid is received and the contracting officer cannot determine the reasonableness of the bid price.”
In response to a News Leader request for comment from the City of Sarasota — which was the co-applicant with the USACE for the state permit for the Lido project — Jan Thornburg, senior communications manager, wrote in an Aug. 15 email. “The City is supportive of the [USACE] rebidding the project. Staff is looking forward to the process being fast tracked and hoping the much-needed renourishment and preservation of Lido Beach will begin the in the Fall/Winter timeframe.”
During a joint meeting of the Sarasota and Charlotte County commissions in late February, a consultant working with both counties on Manasota Key Beach renourishment projects pointed out that only a few companies worldwide continue to pursue major dredging initiatives.
Michael T. Poff, president of Coastal Engineering Consultants in Naples, indicated that, as a result of that situation, the companies can be choosy about which projects they pursue.
The late summer of 2014 was the first time Sarasota County commissioners heard of dramatic increases in bid responses for beach renourishment efforts. After Laird Wreford, then coastal resources manager for the county, cited the potential $19.8-million expense of the second nourishment of South Siesta Beach, then-Commissioner Nora Patterson expressed astonishment at the figure.
Wreford explained on Aug. 20, 2014 that beach restoration projects necessitated by “Super Storm” Sandy — which caused significant erosion in a number of areas on the U.S. coastline in the fall of 2012 — had led to huge demand for the limited number of ocean-going vessels that could harvest sand offshore. Therefore, he said, “The cost of beach nourishment … just skyrocketed.”
Weeks Marine ended up being the contractor that won the bid for that South Siesta Renourishment Project, which concluded in late April 2016. The total cost of the initiative was about $21.5 million. Altogether, 713,000 cubic yards of sand from three borrow areas in the Gulf of Mexico was placed on that part of Siesta Key’s shoreline, Wreford told Siesta Key Association members in July 2016.
On five occasions after posting the solicitation package, the USACE changed the deadline for the submission of bids. Each time, the federal agency published one or more amendments in which it tweaked various aspects of the project.
In an Aug. 15 telephone interview with the News Leader, Carl Shoffstall, president of the Lido Key Residents Association (LKRA), said Sarasota City Manager Tom Barwin informed him earlier this week about the USACE bid situation.
Shoffstall told the News Leader that he understood from Barwin that the USACE was looking into ways to lower the expense of the project.
Asked if he remained optimistic that the USACE would be able to work out some means of pursuing the long-term Lido project, Shoffstall replied, “We have no choice. We can’t give up hope. We won’t have any buildings out here.”
Many times over the past several years, Shoffstall has stressed the severe erosion on the Lido Beach, with residents living in structures close to the Gulf of Mexico fearful of major property damage.
The City of Sarasota won Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) approval last year to pursue an emergency renourishment of Lido Key Beach, using about 205,000 cubic yards of sand from New Pass. Weather that produced rough seas in the pass slowed down the project; it finally was completed in April.
Barwin has told the City Commission that he remains hopeful that the emergency work will keep the beach stabilized until the USACE can begin the big project, which he anticipated would start this fall.
However, two Siesta Key-based nonprofits — the Siesta Key Association (SKA) and Save Our Siesta Sand 2 (SOSS2) — remain engaged in litigation over the proposal to remove sand from Big Sarasota Pass, which never has been dredged. They contend that the USACE’s modeling for the project was insufficient to determine the potential for significant damage to Siesta Key and the waterway itself as a result of the removal of sand from Big Pass. The USACE has stood steadfast in asserting that its modeling is accurate in showing no negative impacts.
Facets of the bids
Although the USACE has proposed removing up to 1.3 million cubic yards of sand from Big Pass for the renourishment of South Lido Key Beach, the solicitation package called for placement of only 950,000 cubic yards of sand on the shoreline. The remainder was expected to be lost in the water during the dredging process, as indicated by USACE documents filed with FDEP in the permit application.
In its solicitation package, the USACE had estimated the unit price of the beach fill at $9.40 per cubic yard. Weeks Marine put the expense at $16 per cubic yard, while Great Lakes Dredge and Dock listed its price as $19 per cubic yard.
Regarding an example of a lower cost for a line item, Robert Luckner, a member of the SKA Board of Directors, told members during their Aug. 1 meeting that the USACE had estimated the expense of the “Environmental Species Monitoring” during the project at $345,000. Yet, Weeks Marine put its cost at $25,000. (The Great Lakes Dredge and Dock bid listed its expense for that at $89,000.)
SKA Director Joyce Kouba sought clarification that she had heard Luckner correctly. “$25,000?!”
Luckner replied that he had no way of knowing whether Weeks had “low-balled it,” perhaps with the intent of seeking more money for the monitoring after beginning the work, if Weeks won the bid.
Under the terms of the FDEP permit, the company that handles the project would be obligated to monitor the effects of the dredging on manatees and sea turtles, for example, Luckner explained. However, he was not certain what measures the USACE would take, he added, to ensure the monitoring was undertaken appropriately.
Another line item in both bid responses that came in much higher than the USACE had anticipated involved the marine mattresses for the two groins included in the project in an effort to hold sand in place on Lido between subsequent renourishments. (The USACE has anticipated adding more sand to the Lido Beach approximately every five years.) A marine mattress is a system used for erosion control and submerged foundations, according to a News Leader online search of companies that make and sell such products.
One firm, JLS Contracting Services of Marietta, Ga., touts the Triton marine mattress, which is a product of Triton Coastal and Waterway Systems. JLS says on its website that the mattress is “[u]sed by the United States Army Corps of Engineers and coastal engineers around the world.”
The estimated USACE unit price for each marine mattress was $19, with 6,740 listed as the quantity for Groin 1 and 11,660 for Groin 2. Weeks put its cost at $45 per unit for each mattress for both groins. Great Lakes said its cost would be $40.40 per unit for each mattress for Groin 1 and $39.90 for each mattress for Groin 2.