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Worthington City Council chooses to wait on awarding of disaster, recovery bids

Worthington City Hall (Brian Korthals/Daily Globe)

WORTHINGTON -- In an emergency meeting Friday afternoon, the Worthington City Council tabled a decision about awarding a bid for disaster response and recovery services.

The meeting will resume on Wednesday morning.

The council had two companies respond to the bid. The first, Ceres Environmental Services Inc. of Brooklyn Park, had a total of $603,375, while TAG Grinding Services Inc. of Daveville, Ala., had a total of $982,750. Representatives from both companies said they could have begun by today, but that timeline was put on hold.

When Worthington Mayor Alan Oberloh signed an emergency declaration, the city was able to hire private contractors without going through the bid process.

However, those agreements were only valid for the first 70 work hours. After those were used, the remaining work was required to be bid out.

"With an interest in trying to save everything we can, we are probably going to lose approximately 50 percent of our trees," City Administrator Craig Clark said. "We're trying to do everything we can to save those in the margin. We, unfortunately, had to more questioning of our state disaster folks than having them come to the table and tell us we need to know about this or about that.

"The biggest example is the 70-hour rule, when you're able to go in and work with private contractors with the emergency declaration the mayor and council carried forward. But you can only mobilize private contractors for the first 70 work hours. Moving forward, then you have to rebid that."

As of the meeting on Friday, there were 12 hours remaining, according to Worthington Excavating owner Susanne Murphy. Because of the snow storm late in the week the landfill was closed Friday and today.

However, after the hours are used up -- which will most likely happen Monday -- those private contractors will be pulled from the streets. City crews could continue the cleanup, but private contractors won't be able to begin work until after the bid is awarded at the 7 a.m. Wednesday meeting.

The council tabled the discussion in part to get a better indication of what the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will be able to fund. To qualify for federal funds, the region would have to reach a certain level of financial loss. According to Clark, the city has estimated there is well over a million dollars in damage.

"Collectively, with the region, this has surpassed the $7.2 million in public loss," Clark said. "We also coordinated with our League of Minnesota Cities insurance trust. We'll meet with them Monday to see what would be covered under the city's insurance."

FEMA will have a meeting with city leaders at 2 p.m. Tuesday at the Fire Hall.

"Signs are looking good that we would likely get the presidential declaration, but they are not going to make any assurances until they are here and do the assessment themselves." Clark said.

According to Public Works Director Jim Eulberg, eight proposals were sent out and only two bids returned.

Oberloh expressed concern about receiving change orders that could be substantial.

"These are estimates only," Eulberg said. "They were for purposes of getting bid prices to give the contractor an idea of the scope of the work and the amount of work's that done."

The question with the low bid was whether it would be considered an unbalanced bid by FEMA. If the bid was too low, there would be a possibility for being rejected by FEMA, meaning there would be no reimbursement.

"Ultimately we have to do it," council member Ron Wood said. "The question becomes, how long do you want our trees hanging down on Humiston? How long do we want to have widow makers out there? In some of these disasters, it took FEMA forever to make some of the declarations.

"Can we afford to wait three months to have our trees trimmed?"

Clark echoed Wood's comments

"I presume that we would be operating under our own risk," Clark said. "But if we were going to have to do the work anyway, what are we doing by waiting?"

While the federal money may not be guaranteed, the council wanted to wait until after the Tuesday meeting to move forward.

"On numerous occasions we've been told, you've got to take a leap of faith and the money will be there," Oberloh said. "That scares me."

Daily Globe Community Content Coordinator Aaron Hagen may be reached at 376-7323.