A split Gasparilla Island Bridge Authority voted 3-2 Dec. 6 at a special meeting to try to repair a frayed business relationship face-to-face rather than face a possible lawsuit.
The GIBA Board spent more than two hours last Thursday discussing how best to handle the appeal from GLF Construction of Miami whose $17.9 million low bid was one of five rejected Nov. 2 despite meeting all pre-qualifications.
A strongly worded GLF letter asking for GIBA to award it the contract as low bidder concluded with a litigation threat.
“I’m seriously concerned. What if we get bids that are $3 million higher? If it comes in higher, who’s going to hold you responsible?”
— Howard J. Hall of Boca Grande
"Should GIBA not reverse its decision, GLF would be left with no other option other than to consider all of its available legal remedies including a suit for damages, bid preparation costs and attorney fees," read a letter sent by the law firm Ferencik Libanoff Brandt Bustamante and Williams of Fort Lauderdale.
GIBA Commissioners Ginger Watkins, George Baker and Chairman David Hayes voted to invite GLF to Boca Grande while Commissioners Gay Darsie and Lee Major dissented saying there was little to be gained and some risk involved in such a meeting.
The public hearing for GLF to air its concerns face-to-face to GIBA was set at 1:30 p.m. Jan. 15 at the Power House on Boca Grande. GLF was to be notified of the opportunity by letter from GIBA.
"I don't have any problem allowing GLF to come before us to plead their case," said GIBA Board Chairman David Hayes.
The Miami firm has appealed the bid rejection and implied in a Nov. 16 letter of protest (see excerpts page 8) it might file a lawsuit to contest the decision. Ira Libanoff, GLF counsel, said the company will reserve comment until after receiving GIBA's invitation.
GIBA also hired counsel to represent its interest in any possible litigation arising from the bid rejection. Attorney Susan Churuti of the law firm Bryant Miller Olive of Tampa, the largest bond counsel firm in Florida, said GIBA had done nothing illegal in its bid decision.
"Having looked at the bid document, I feel you are on very firm ground," Churuti said at the special meeting. "You have not created property rights so Florida law is on your side. You're in a relatively good position."
GLF will have to prove GIBA acted arbitrarily, illegally, dishonestly or fraudulently to prevail in court case, Churuti said.
"The Board has the right to reject all bids," Hayes said. "We didn't do it arbitrarily."
GIBA will now wait to issue a second request for proposal for the Swing Bridge until it has received the final design. Hayes said waiting until the designs are completed, rather than awarding the bid at 75 percent completion, would make it less likely the winning contractor will dip into the $2 million contingency fund during the course of construction and thus save Gasparilla Island taxpayers money.
If GIBA had taken the apparent low bid of $17.9 million by GLF Construction, overall construction costs for the three bridges would have totaled a projected $32.2 million, well under the initial estimated $40 million.
Hayes took criticism at the meeting from a number of Boca Grande residents unhappy the low bid was not accepted.
"You're looking at a costly process for Boca Grande taxpayers," said attorney Bill Johnson, a village resident. "I think it's risky. I think you're on thin ice."
"I'm seriously concerned," said Howard J. Hall of Boca Grande. "What if we get bids that are $3 million higher? If it comes in higher, who's going to hold you responsible?"
Another resident said rejecting the bid made no sense.
"Do you somehow expect to get more bridge for less money? What are you trying to accomplish?"
Darsie's motion during the meeting for GIBA to award the bid to GLF died for lack of a second.
"I'm not at all as sanguine about our prospects as our counsel," Darsie said. "We put out a contract for bid. An injunction would really impede our project."
William Holmberg, GIBA Finance Committee chairman, had previously cautioned failing to accept the bid might mean the next round come in higher as construction material, worker and wage demands are all certain to rise following Hurricane Sandy. Materials prices, wages and worker availability will likely then be less favorable to GIBA, he said.
In other action:
GIBA's State Infrastructure Bank loan application still awaits Gov. Rock Scott's approval.
The GIBA Board has paid $7.1 million of the $10.6 million of fixed bridge debt to date by debt financing and $3.5 million in cash.
Swing Bridge design deadlines have been adjusted to March 14 for completion and April 18 for GIBA Board approval. The move will not affect construction completion dates.