BROOKSVILLE — The low bid for expanding the Hernando County landfill seemed too good to be true. Turns out, it was.
Back in late July, county utilities director Joe Stapf was thrilled that none of the eight companies that bid to build a new cell at the landfill came anywhere near the $9.35 million estimated project cost.
The low bidder was Southeast Environmental Contracting, which submitted a base bid of $5.5 million.
The utilities staff investigated the low bidders to make sure they met the specifications for the project and that they had the qualifications to do the job. During that process, they asked why the company had left nearly $700,000 "on the table'' by underbidding the second low bidder by that amount.
The Southeast president then looked again at his company's bid and discovered that an employee had miscalculated the amount of excavation work needed at the site. That meant that the bid was off by nearly $500,000.
The president told Hernando staff that he would lose money on the job if his company's bid were accepted, and that he would prefer the county move to the second low bidder.
But that is not the plan, according to Stapf and county purchasing director Jim Gantt.
Gantt said the county couldn't ethically renegotiate with the company. Stapf said the county can't let the company drop out of bidding because that impacts the integrity of the bidding process.
County officials don't want to delay the expansion because the existing landfill cell is nearing its capacity. Trucking loads of its residential garbage outside of the county will cost Hernando tens of thousands of dollars.
Stapf and Gantt are considering whether to go ahead and recommend Southeast to the County Commission as the low bidder. If they do that, the company either can try to do the project for the bid amount or simply not do the work.
In that case, the company would be in default on its bid, and the county could take action against the bid bond of Southeast Environmental Contracting.
Hernando then could choose the second lowest bidder, T & K Construction, which bid $6.2 million, and seek to make up some of the cost difference through Southeast's bid bond.
That could return $274,412 to the county, according to Stapf's Wednesday memo to county administration and commissioners. "It is perhaps worth noting that the second low bid amount for the base bid is still well under our engineer's estimate,'' he wrote.
He also noted that the investigation into the bidders was not yet complete and additional revisions might still be necessary before the bid is brought to the commission.
That bid award could come as early at Aug. 25.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.