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MEEKER | The Eastern Rio Blanco Metropolitan Recreation & Park District (ERBM) Board of Directors has come under fire for their decision to hire an Arkansas company for the next phase of their Trails Development Project. The project will add approximately 4.5 miles to the existing China Wall trail system on BLM land. Groundbreaking is scheduled for this summer.
Citizens have raised concerns primarily because the board passed over two substantially cheaper bids from local contractors, one from T&M Contracting for $43,563 and one from Rock Hawg Construction, Inc. for $95,844.
At the March 20 board meeting, a construction contract in the amount of $150,044.40 was awarded to Progressive Trail Design (PTD) of Bentonville, Ark., after a 13 minute discussion. Executive Director Sean VonRoenn directed the board’s attention to their packets, explained they had received three out of town bids and two local bids, then stated, “We are recommending to go with the contractor that built the previous trail system, but we’ll leave that to the board.” He then asked Aaron Grimes of BLM for his thoughts. Grimes talked about the project goals and how he felt PTD in particular would best be able to meet them. Director Kris Arcolesse stated, “I’m really surprised at the difference between the lowest and the highest. I’m not a construction person; it’s kind of hard for me to fathom that huge difference. It’s hard to wrap my head around it.” VonRoenn agreed that he was not a construction person either, and explained that in order to maximize the number of bids received, the board did not require a bid bond on this project, meaning “the contractor would have additional costs in vetting the project and working with an insured company, so bid bonds are intended to make sure contractors do their due diligence on the front end.”
Director Travis Mobley asked for ERBM Parks and Facilities Manager Rod Gerloff’s opinion on how the current trails have held up, as maintenance is and will continue to be the joint responsibility of ERBM and BLM. Gerloff stated maintenance has been minimal and the trails are essentially self-sustainable.
The bid was then awarded to Progressive Trail Design on a 4-0 vote (board director and BLM Field Manager Kent Walter recused himself from the vote due to a conflict of interest) with a stipulation the bid not exceed the budgeted amount—PTD’s current bid is about $6,000 over budget. Monies for the project are coming from a Colorado Parks and Wildlife grant ($106,750.00), ERBM ($20,000), BLM ($2,000), the Town of Meeker ($10,000) and Rio Blanco County ($5,000).
Mike Wille, owner of T&M Contracting, was in attendance and asked to see the numbers after the decision was made. He was told they would be made available and then he left the meeting.
Just prior to adjournment, the board revisited their decision. Director Arcolesse stated, “I’m not feeling very good about my vote for the trails so help me walk through it. I felt very uncomfortable having Mike (Wille) here and I also felt like ‘would’ve I, could’ve I?’ abstained from that because I felt like I didn’t have enough information to make a good vote.”
Director Mobley replied, “We always want to do locals, but I think it’s so specific in the expertise of the one company. It was tough for me to say that, to put that out there.”
Director Varland added, “I was thinking about when the BLM guy tells me, tells us, they’ve had minimal maintenance. It’s not just excavating, it’s kind of an art form from what I’m understanding. I was totally comfortable with it but Mike being here, yeah, that was uncomfortable, but he knew this wasn’t a place to discuss the bids so I almost felt like him being here was almost like, I don’t know what his intention was. It was almost to me, it was, I don’t know if it was purposeful but it was kind of intimidation and that’s the way I felt about it. It wasn’t going to change anything, it was just interesting that he came.”
VonRoenn stated, “I would just tell you, and I appreciate all the comments, that we always try to utilize local contractors. We used Mike on big projects but this is a specialized amenity and to build it well it’s highly preferable to go with those that are doing it.”
Arcolesse added, “We don’t always vote just because it’s the lowest,” and Walter stated, “I think it was communicated that the board would prefer to go with a local contractor but the local contractor didn’t offer the expertise that was needed for the project.”
VonRoenn continued, “It was a little bit of a rock and a hard place for us bidding the project, which I said. If we had put out a bid bond we run the risk of not getting numbers from the other companies, as well. However had we put it out we wouldn’t have seen the local folks bid. That’s kind of the owners’ recourse in eliminating frivolous bids, which essentially those were.”
VonRoenn emailed a rationale explaining the decision to the entire board of directors March 30 after “reaction in the community to the board’s decision on the trails contract,” according to the email. He also forwarded the rationale to Town Planner Scott Meszaros (the Town of Meeker has $10,000 pledged to the project) and RBC Economic Development Coordinator Katelin Cook (RBC has committed $5,000) April 2.
The Herald Times requested a summarization of this document from VonRoenn and received the following statement:
“The ERBM Board of Directors has selected Progressive Trail Design to complete the Meeker China Wall Trails Expansion Project this summer based on several criteria, including, but not limited to the following: (1) demonstrated credentials and successful project delivery in building sustainable back-country single-track flow trails in mountainous terrain like those proposed for Hidden Valley and Lion Canyon; (2) extensive trail building experience in western Colorado communities of all sizes, including the original China Wall Trail construction in 2012 and 2013; (3) the project goals of low ongoing maintenance, and increasing usage and visitation, which require a contractor with specialized expertise that will deploy critical construction techniques based on the design framework and parameters set forth in pertinent federal and professional industry planning documents; and (4) to maximize grant resources through the extremely competitive Colorado Parks and Wildlife State Trails program which has awarded $106,750 toward the completion of this project. ERBM would also like to thank the many professionals who invested significant time and effort into all the pre-construction due diligence to make this trail development possible, including: environmental assessments, wildlife mitigation impact studies, concept design and mapping, public comment periods, industry cost analyses, volunteer trail crew coordination, and grant funding processes. Developing this trail system into a high quality hiking and biking amenity for local residents and regional visitors to enjoy has been, and will continue to be, a truly collaborative effort.”
At the commissioners meeting Monday last, the general consensus during work session was the county would not be pulling their funds for the project. Commissioner Si Woodruff stated in an emailed response to the rationale document that “this is not our fight,” but also said he was “not in agreement with the rationale … I question how does a company not involved in this type of work ever get the expertise if they’re not chosen after following the process.”
The Town of Meeker has the matter on their April 17 agenda for discussion. At the March meeting, trustee Travis Day said he was “really concerned” with the way the recreation district handled bids for the trails project and Trustee Rodney Gerloff called for a “point of order” on the matter. According to Robert’s Rules of Order, a point of order may be raised if the rules appear to have been broken, thus requiring the chair to make a ruling before discussion continues. Mayor Halandras requested the item be put on the agenda for the next meeting.
Mike Wille also released a statement to the Herald Times via email:
“As a business owner and constituent of Rio Blanco County for 18 years I am concerned about the financial direction that we the people are headed. Blatant disregard of public funds to be spent ‘out of town’ for contractors that do not support our community is eye-opening. The saying has always been ‘keep it local’.
I am also guilty of not paying attention to some of our public monies being spent wisely. As a business owner I have to answer to my family, customers and friends. If I were to spend money with no accountability my business would fail. Where is the accountability?
In the bidding process I was not the only local bidder on the trail system. The amount between my bid and the bid awarded was over $106,000. The second local bid had a difference of $54,000. If we spend our local tax dollars on Progressive Trail Design out of Bentonville, Ark., the revenue from this job supports families in Arkansas. How do we recoup money for local families?
I attended the public board meeting in order to answer any questions that the board might have pertaining to my experience in construction and trail building. I assumed that there would be public opening of the bid in the meeting, as the project was publicly funded. That was not the case. Bids were not openly disclosed and no questions were asked during this meeting. Why not disclose this to the public during the meeting?
If nothing else comes out of this I would encourage you to let your voice be heard by voting May 3, 2018, in the next election of board members and demand fiscal responsibility.
In closing, my family and the families I employ would like to thank the people of Rio Blanco County and Meeker for the opportunities and the jobs that we have had in the past to make Meeker a better place.”
The next ERBM district board meeting will be Tuesday, April 17 at the Meeker Recreation Center at 6 p.m.