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County urged to reject highway project bid

Citrus County should not award a $20-million road widening project to the lowest bidder because the company that offered it made mistakes during a legal bidding process, an attorney recommended Wednesday.

County officials sought the help of a Tallahassee law firm to advise them on how to award a contract to widen County Road 486 after a bidder, DAB Constructors Inc., complained that the lowest bid made by another company was incomplete.

While DAB bid almost $20,044,755 for the project, Advance Construction Services Inc., based in Alabama, bid $18,497,174. But the company forgot to submit an alternate bid, which was required, and it also made a mistake in its calculations.

John C. Pelham and Susan Spurgeon, two Tallahassee lawyers the county retained, wrote in a memo to the county that Advance Construction's bid was incomplete and contained irregularities.

The company's attempts to correct its mistakes, which ended up raising its bid by almost $1 million, were made after sealed bids were opened, which violates state law, the attorneys wrote.

Therefore, they wrote, the company's bid should be thrown out.

There are complex rules governing bidding, which is like a secret auction for local governments to award business contracts to companies, usually in the interest of seeking the lowest bid in the most fair way.

By not selecting Advance Construction, county taxpayers stand to lose about $235,000 if officials give Inglis-based DAB the contract. DAB was the only other bidder.

County commissioners will award the CR 486 contract Tuesday. On Wednesday, before County Administrator Richard Wesch had seen the attorneys' advice, he said he thinks the county has legal standing to choose either company.

"Given the language in our bidding guidelines, I think we have sufficient flexibility to go either way," Wesch said.

"We feel like we were the low bidder," said Ken Pitts, Advance Construction project manager, adding that the county's own procedures allow for math errors to be corrected.

"I think it's unconscionable for DAB to ask the county to spend that money when they weren't the lowest bidder in the first place," he said.

But Boone Herberman, DAB senior project manager, said the county can't skirt state rules. All companies that bid, he said, were given the same instructions, which they all should have followed.

"We're certainly pleased, and we feel that (the lawyers) made the right decision," Herberman said.

County Attorney Robert Battista did not return a phone call Thursday.

_ Times staff writer Amy Wimmer Schwarb contributed to this report. Justin George can be reached at (352) 860-7309 or jgeorgesptimes.com.

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