BROOKSVILLE — With a possible lawsuit and the loss of state money hanging over their heads, county commissioners on Wednesday reversed direction once again on the controversial Peck Sink project.
Last week, commissioners voted to reject all the engineering proposals they had received to design a stormwater treatment system and passive park at the environmentally sensitive 80-acre site near Brooksville.
The idea then was to change county policy to allow local firms to get preference over out-of-county competitors for government contracts.
Hernando already gives such an edge to local businesses in some instances; this would extend that advantage to professional services, such as engineering, when committees evaluating bids have local firms ranked even with outside companies.
King Engineering Associates Inc. of Tampa and A Civil Design Group of Spring Hill had tied in such a recent ranking by the selection committee working on the Peck Sink project. Using the tie-breaking solution that has been in place for the past six years, purchasing director Jim Gantt determined that King Engineering would win because it earned the most first-place ratings by the committee members.
In order to give local bidders some help during these tough economic times, the commissioners last week rejected all of the bids and called for a do-over.
King Engineering filed a formal bid protest stating that the decision wasn't based on the qualifications of the applying engineers, but rather a new criteria that came up after the bids had been submitted.
Citing "extraordinary circumstances,'' Commissioner Dave Russell asked to have the issue brought forward again during Wednesday's meeting.
Richard Matassa of Civil Design told commissioners that he has been told he has a legal case if the county reversed itself, but he said had no intent of pursuing one.
He also argued that the commission wasn't really changing a rule on tie-breaking because it has no written rule.
Gantt said that the county's policy had changed in the past but since 2002 the same tie-breaking method has been used without any problems until this case.
Representing King Engineering, attorney Derrill McAteer urged the commission to reconsider its previous decision. "King Engineering would very much like to perform this service,'' he said.
Commissioner John Druzbick, who proposed the tie-breaker based on local firms getting favored status, said Wednesday that he still believes that should be the county's policy for future cases.
Commissioners Jeff Stabins and Russell said it was important to find a formal tie-breaking mechanism that was fair and legally defensible. County Attorney Garth Coller asked commissioners for their views to help define what it would mean to be a local firm as the county staff draws up some tie-breaking policy proposal.
Russell then reminded commissioners that the Peck Sink project was funded in large part through state dollars at a time when the state is scrambling to make up huge revenue deficits. Delaying this project "could spell doom,'' he said. "If we did not take action today, we could very well be at risk of losing that.''
Commissioners voted 4-1 to accept their selection committee's ranking and begin negotiations with King Engineering on the project.
Commissioner Jim Adkins said he voted to reject the engineering proposals last week for the same reason he voted not to accept them on Wednesday. He did not believe in the project and said the planned stormwater improvements and passive park would not fix the historical flooding problems in that area of Brooksville.
"I just didn't want park benches on pontoons,'' he said.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.