County staff stymied so far in trying to hire new contractor to take over stalled construction on Beneva Road and Bahia Vista Street

Commissioner Ziegler brings up complaints from residents who have to deal with construction cones closing off travel lanes

Construction barrels stand in the right, eastbound lane of Bahia Vista Street in early January. News Leader photo

Sarasota County staff has utilized what County Administrator Jonathan Lewis this week called “a quick, competitive selection process” to hire a new contractor to take over a sewer pipeline project that has been on hold for months.

However, the director of the county’s Capital Projects Department has informed the County Commission that the process resulted in a bid that is too high for staff to consider it.

Motorists who routinely drive through the northeast quadrant of the intersection of Beneva Road and Bahia Vista Street — and along east Bahia Vista — have had to continue to navigate on one lane, with bright orange construction cones next to them.

Commissioner Christian Ziegler brought up the issue during the board’s regular meeting on May 10, saying he had received an email late the previous night from a resident concerned about the situation. Ziegler added that he believes his colleagues also have received emails from upset members of the public.

“Whatever we can do to look at that and give citizens an update,” he continued, would be much appreciated.

“I drive by that all the time,” Ziegler said of the project area. “It’s got to be frustrating for citizens to see cones and basically open construction that is stalled … for months.”

Lewis reminded the board members that, late last year, the county terminated its contract with the company that had won the bid for the project.

This graphic shows the path of the sewer force main, in yellow. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Miami-based American Pipeline Construction LLC was to install a 2-mile-long, 24-inch transmission force main from the South Gate Master Pump Station, along Hyde Park Street to Brookhaven Drive and then onto Sea View Street before crossing Beneva Road and then heading north to Bahia Vista and, finally, east to the intersection of McIntosh Road and Bahia Vista, a county document pointed out.

As the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) explains, a force main is a pipeline that conveys wastewater under pressure from the discharge side of a pump or pneumatic ejector to a discharge point. Pumps or compressors located in a lift station provide the energy for wastewater conveyance in force mains.” The key elements of force mains, the EPA adds, are a pipeline, valves, pressure surge control devices and a cleaning system.

The EPA also notes, “Pipeline size and wall thickness are determined by wastewater flow, operating pressure, and trench conditions.”

As The Sarasota News Leader reported in early January, Lewis sent the commissioners an email on Dec. 21, 2021, informing them about the decision regarding American Pipeline.

In this view of northbound Beneva Road, just south of the Bahia Vista intersection, the sidewalk is missing and construction barrels are being used to close off the righthand lane in early January. News Leader photo

Additionally, on Dec. 21, 2021, Sarasota County Procurement Official Jennifer Slusarz sent a two-paragraph letter to American Pipeline, pointing out that, earlier in the month, county staff had notified the company that it was being “afforded the opportunity to remedy deficiencies” in the contract it won from the county in October 2020.

Yet, she continued, American Pipeline “had failed to complete all of the items listed [in that letter] to the County’s satisfaction. Therefore, termination of the Contract shall be effective as of December 21, 2021.”

The county had awarded the company $5,967,501.50 for the undertaking, according to documents in the Oct. 20, 2020 meeting packet.

Slusarz further noted that, under the terms of the contract, the county was directing American Pipeline “to remove all equipment, materials and unsuitable stockpiled spoils from the jobsite by the close of business January 7, 2022. For the safety, health and welfare of the public,” she continued, “the County requests that all erosion control and Maintenance of Traffic devices remain in place.”

When the News Leader requested more information about the situation the first week of January, the Capital Projects Department provided the following statement: “Once a new contractor mobilizes on site, they will temporarily pave Beneva Road and open it to alleviate traffic until the [tourist] season is over. They will also be repairing sidewalks, along with [curbs and gutters], in the vicinity of Beneva Road and Bahia Vista Street. Additional pipe installation will commence after the initial repairs are completed.”

Signs have warned drivers heading north on Beneva Road that the lanes would be narrowed. File photo

More work will be needed on Beneva Road, the statement continued. However, that would take place after tourist season “is over,” the statement said. “At this time, we do not know when the new contractor will mobilize,” the statement added. Nonetheless, it said, staff would “provide additional updates within the next several weeks. Updates would be available on the County’s Projects in My Neighborhood webpage at the following link:

The American Pipeline contract did include the standard country requirement for a performance and payment bond, “executed by the Contractor, and a surety company authorized to do business in the State of Florida,” the documents show. That bond was to be “no less than the contract price …”

County Administrator Jonathan Lewis. File image

On May 10, County Administrator Lewis alluded to staff’s work with the surety company in trying to hire a new company to take over the project.

Commissioner Ziegler told Lewis, “Whatever we can do to push that along, I think we really need to make that a focus.”

Lewis also said he would ask Carolyn Eastwood, director of the Capital Projects Department, to send the commissioners the most recent information she had about the status of the situation. He added that staff would provide details to the public, as well, including posting information on the county’s social media accounts.

As of late morning on May 12, The Sarasota News Leader could find no advisory on the Sarasota County Government Facebook page regarding the project problems.

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In an email she sent to the commissioners just after 4:30 p.m. on May 10, Eastwood wrote, “As previously mentioned, staff initiated an emergency bid with bids due on May 4th. There were three interested bidders,” she added. However, the county received only one bid, Eastwood noted. “The bid amount is significantly more than what we anticipated. As such, we will not be proceeding with award of the bid.”

She continued, “A meeting with the Office of the County Attorney and Procurement was held to discuss next steps. As we are still [working] under an emergency procurement [process], staff intends to adjust the project requirements in hopes of obtaining more reasonable pricing from the 3 interested bidders. We hope that this process will occur within the next 2 weeks so we can select a new contractor to complete this project.”

Each week, the Capital Projects staff issues a report called Construction — One Week Look Ahead. The document covering the period from May 9 to May 15 said the county had “re-bid the [Bahia Vista] project to secure another contractor to complete the remaining work. The County anticipated work to resume in June, the document added.

The county Communications Department’s Road & Lane Closures webpage has included Bahia Vista Street on its list for months. That notice says, “[M]otorists can expect ongoing daytime lane closures on Bahia Vista from the Legacy Trail Crossing to Oak View Drive.”

A second paragraph notes the December 2021 termination of the American Pipeline contract. Then, the last line, printed in blue type with three asterisks on either side, points out, “Work is anticipated to resume in June 2022.”