Hendry County hustles to be hurricane-ready

CLEWISTON — The Hendry County commissioners discussed some of the provisions for the looming hurricane season at their meeting May 14, specifically regarding their approximately 40 emergency backup generators located at facilities countywide.

A request for proposals had been issued and the submissions opened April 12 as staff took a proactive stance on their upkeep and maintenance at the board’s direction to make sure the county could keep operating in the event of a tropical weather event causing a state of emergency. Four companies submitted bids, including the firm Quality Electric Contracting. County Commissioner Karson Turner is a part owner and employee. It submitted the highest bid at $75,135 even while, Mr. Turner told fellow commissioners at Tuesday night’s meeting, company executives told him there were a lot of open-ended questions in the proposal specifications.

The other proposals were received from: Cummins Inc., which submitted the lowest bid at $32,875 (the company is based in Atlanta but has service locations in Fort Myers, Tampa and Port Charlotte); Tradewinds Power Corp. of Jacksonville, $41,500; and Center State Repair of Moore Haven, $70,330.

Mr. Turner started the discussion by stating he’d make a motion to approve the lowest bid from Cummins; however, he said, “I do want to talk to the county administrator about this, because the bid packet was woefully unprepared. I will predict that Cummins Inc. will not be able to perform this job at (that price). I’m going to say it will be at least double.”

There’s a lot more discussion that needs to take place, he said, that includes Alan Bowen, county facilities manager, and County Engineer/Public Works Director Shane Parker, because some of the generators certainly will need more work and testing to make sure they’re ready to perform in an emergency.

When Commissioner Michael Swindle asked “Is there a second?” Board Chairman Mitchell Wills answered, “No, there isn’t.”

Commissioner Turner said, “I do want us to look at this. When I looked at the number that Quality Electric put forward,” he added, he realized that the county was “going to get change-ordered to death.” And as he read the RFP, he said, it contained many open-ended items that would prove to be quite costly.

Just then County Attorney Mark Lapp interrupted to point out that he needed to abstain from voting on the motion because of the obvious conflict of interest.

Mr. Swindle asked whether they should just let it fail, but Mr. Turner withdrew his motion. Commissioner Darrell Harris asked, “Is this an emergency?” and Mr. Swindle said it was, since hurricane season starts in under two weeks. Mr. Turner pointed out that this May is the first one in several years when there hasn’t been a named storm so far, and cautioned that they would see a much higher final number come back without a better handle on what’s needed.

Commissioner Swindle said he would favor hiring a dedicated person to do the necessary work and keep it in-house, saying, “Why would we bring in someone from Charlotte County? I would rather just hire someone local.” But Mr. Turner explained it would be unlikely they could find someone in the area with the necessary electrical expertise in time because the county’s machinists are not trained to perform those duties.

He suggested that “since we’re behind the eight ball,” they direct County Administrator Jennifer Davis, attorney Lapp, facilities chief Bowen and engineer Parker to invite Cummins Inc. in to negotiate and, meanwhile, inspect the county’s equipment.

Mr. Swindle said, “We need this done.”

Chairman Wills agreed that “there’s a lot of work to be done on our generators.” Mr. Turner said Cummins’ proposal was a “foot-in-the-door bid.” Then Mr. Parker was asked for his thoughts.

“I think it’s fair to bring them down. You do need a field trip. Narrow it down to what you actually need,” he said.

Mr. Lapp suggested that they might end up changing the scope of work in the job. In looking at Hendry County’s procurement ordinance, he’d found a passage in allowing them to reject all the proposals and take an alternative approach since the RFP package was not specific enough.

That was the course commissioners ultimately decided to take so they could expedite the beginning of their “Planned Maintenance and Inspection Program to keep the generators in operational condition as designed by the manufacturer.” It calls for semi-annual inspections in August and January, with one annual full service maintenance regimen and inspection prior to hurricane season in May.

Emergency Management Director Richard Lehmkuhl, Administrator Davis, Mr. Parker and Mr. Lapp were directed on a 4-0 vote with Mr. Turner abstaining to bring in Cummins representatives and work out a different, more inclusive arrangement.

Chris Felker can be reached at cfelker@newszap.com

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