(08/18/2009)
The Calhoun Commission expressed concerns Monday that a $5.2 million dollar waterline extension along Route 16 south to Chloe, and other areas between Millstone and Russett, could be in trouble.

This is the second time problems have surfaced with the project. The commission, during a public meeting earlier this year, learned that the project had been stuck in 2008 with the obtaining of right-of-ways.

The commission, with assistance by Public Service District board members, made a major effort to get the project unstuck, to move the project ahead for bidding.

Yesterday, the commission passed a motion calling for a public meeting with the Mt. Zion PSD Board members, their secretary Wilma Mace and Jim Hildreth, project engineer, for 6 p.m. Monday (August 24) in the court chambers at the Calhoun courthouse.

Representatives of USDA Rural Development are expected to attend, in addition to other parties who have a vested interest in the project.

"Calhoun citizens concerned about the project are encouraged to attend," said commissioner Scottie "Chip" Westfall, who said "It's the biggest single infrastructure project ever in this county."

The commission also passed a motion directing Prosecuting Attorney Shelly DeMarino to pursue all legal avenues to obtain records, minutes, financial statements and audits of the PSD from secretary Mace, who also reportedly manages the PSD's financial affairs.

PSD minutes and records are required by WV Code to be regularly furnished to the county commission.

Mace has refused numerous times to supply the records, as late as last week, according to the commissioners.

The Pleasant Hill PSD submits such information on a regular basis.

The commission's motion to obtain PSD records focused on recent meetings related to the issuing of contracts for the water project.

The motion also asks the prosecutor to obtain PSD records, minutes, financial statements and audits for a period covering ten years.

Commissioners Chip Westfall and Kevin Helmick made the motions, which passed unanimously with commission president Bob Weaver concurring.

The Calhoun Commission has long pushed the project after residents complained about lack of water and asked for help. Residents will benefit from having a consistent water supply, increased property values, better fire protection and lower insurance rates.

BIDDING PROBLEMS?

Arnoldsburg contractor Ron Lane, who was the low bidder on the project, says "I'm facing serious problems if the bid is not let by September 3rd."

Project engineer Jim Hildreth has indicated to Lane and the PSD board that he wants more time than 60 days to qualify Lane.

Lane says he has locked-in prices for pipe and materials for the project, which will be lost if Hildreth continues to slow down the process.

Lane's supplier advised the PSD at a recent meeting that costs would increase 39% for the materials, costs are going up because of shortages created by stimulus financed projects around the country.

Lane said, "The way I look at it, it is not reasonable to be in a check-out line in a grocery store for four hours, or spend a day-and-half sitting in a dentist's chair, or waiting for a week-and-a-half for a car to get a lube job."

"Requiring over 60 days is too long to qualify my company for this contract," he said. "I feel that we have provided Hildreth with everything he has requested," indicating his job performance is covered by a bond.

"We do everything we can to work with the PSD," Lane said.

Hildreth, during the bid opening, delayed Lane's bid, saying it was not in order because it lacked an embossed corporate seal. Legal determination concluded Lane's corporate document was acceptable.

The 21-mile project has already been granted over $1,250,000 because of increasing costs.

COMMISSION HAS OTHER CONCERNS

A Charleston contractor has indicated he will likely file a lawsuit against Hildreth and the Mt. Zion PSD for refusing to open his bid for part of the contract requiring the installation of water tanks.

Bruce Caswell Welding, a company that has been in business for 62 years, the second bidder on the tanks, claims that project engineer Hildreth over-stepped by not opening his bid, claiming he was "not a responsible bidder."

The commission has serious concerns about the project being delayed if Caswell files suit.

Commissioner Kevin Helmick said earlier this year that the commission helped initiate the project and will pass-down the funding, "It is now up to to the PSD," expressing concern that the longer the project languishes the more inflation will drain the funds.

USDA Rural Development has filed a Freedom of Information request with the Mt. Zion PSD to obtain information about the bidding procedures.

The commission has also expressed concerns regarding their efforts to use $200,000 left in project funds if Lane's low bid is accepted.

While PSD board members agreed with the commissioners that the money could be used to do upgrades in the Mt. Zion water system, Mace indicated she felt the money could not be used for that purpose.

Commission President Bob Weaver said, "These are unfortunate problems which must be cleared-up with answers to questions."

See related stories:

CALHOUN'S $5.2 MILLION WATER PROJECT COULD BE UNSTUCK

WATER PROJECT RIGHT-OF-WAYS NEARING COMPLETION - Sped-Up Efforts Yielding Results

CALHOUN'S $5.2 MILLION WATER PROJECT UNSTUCK - Commissioners Struggle To Balance Budget

RONALD LANE INC. LOW BIDDER ON CALHOUN'S $5.2 MIL WATER LINE


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