Lee County Commissioners drew a line in the sand when it came to a beach renourishment project.
A discussion about The Bonita Beach Renourishment Project, an interlocal project shared by Lee County and the City of Bonita Springs, became contentious over hiring an out-of-town engineering company -- instead of a local one -- for the $1.6 million project.
Coastal Technology Corporation, recommended by the Competitive Negotiations Committee as the top coastal engineering firm for the job, beat out two local companies. The company, whose offices are located on the east coast and Sarasota, impressed the committee with their presentation for the renourishment project, said Roland Ottolini, the county’s natural resources division director.
That component of the motion did not sit well with Commissioner Tammy Hall. By choosing a non-local company over two local companies, including one with a history in Lee County, Hall told the board she could not support it.
“We have an extenuating unemployment in Lee County and this board has taken time to work with businesses in this county,” Hall to the board. “All things being equal...can you show me that a local firm cannot do this?”
The two other companies ranked second and third by the committee are Coastal Engineering Consulatants, Inc., which has a Naples office, and Humiston & Moore Engineers of Fort Myers. The latter engineering firm is known for their involvement in the Gasparilla Island Renourishment Project, completed in 2007.
The decision to hire non-local business came after a telephone interview and presentation — for Ottolini, Coastal Technology Corporation’s presentation was the strongest.
“We felt, based on the project experience and what they had done most recently, they were the better outfit,” Ottolini said. “Based on what was presented, we didn’t bias it on local or non-local.”
The project is a continuation of ongoing post-project renourishment construction that began in 1996. Back then, two groins were installed near Big Hickory Pass with sand infill along 4,100 feet of the beach. More sand was replaced in 2004 with expectations that it would be done again in 2010 or 2011. The entire project has been designated as critically eroded by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, with pre-project erosion rates measured at up to 2.5 feet per year.
The importance of the project implies the need for experience in similar project size and materials used for it, like a hopper dredge, Ottolini said
“In terms of the committee’s opinion, they provided the best presentation,” he said.
While commissioners continued to vet the matter, Commissioner Ray Judah noted that, for the future hiring of contract firms, that the mentality of “non-local need not apply” not become a county precedent. For Judah and other members of the board, by ignoring the committee selection process, the board would undermine the purpose and responsibility placed upon the Competitive Negotiations Committee and reduce competition for low bids.
“We have a process in place and there was no pre-condition that you could only be a local firm to be considered by Competitive Negotiations Committee,” Judah said. “If you always rule out non-local, there’s potential for excessively high cost for project, but our priority and preference is to go local.”
When Coastal Technology Corporation begins work on Bonita Beach later this year, they’ll renourish sand eroded over the past seven years affecting shoreline development on Little Hickory Island. Eighty-eight percent of the shoreline is currently multifamily development, 5 percent hotel property and 8 percent public parks, a Long Range Budget Plan on Bonita Beach Nourishment from Lee County’s Natural Resource Department states.
With the motion passing 4 to 1, with Hall dissenting, Chairman Frank Mann addressed the integrity of the committee process and implied further discussion on hiring construction managers could be discussed during an upcoming management and planning meeting.
“In today’s meeting, we have a process that’s played out and it’s now here with us,” Mann said. “If we want to change the process, that will have to be done another time.”