By Jesse Wood
Feb. 19, 2014. After much discussion about how Valor Engineering came to be recommended by staff for due diligence services on the ambulance station property in Vilas while cheaper competition waited in the wing, the Watauga County Board of Commissioners “reluctantly,” as Commissioner Perry Yates put it, approved a contract with Valor Engineering for services not to exceed $20,510 in cost at its Tuesday meeting.
After the commissioners agreed to purchase 13 acres near the intersection of U.S. 421 and U.S. 321 at an earlier February meeting and with only a 90-day due diligence period to see whether the property was suitable for an ambulance station, Country Manager Deron Geouque and Watauga County Maintenance Director Robert Marsh said they “fast tracked” the search for engineering services as it was understood at the commissioners’ previous meeting.
Marsh added that Boone-based Valor Engineering was the first to inquire about the job and that professional engineer Jason Gaston, owner of the company, convinced Marsh that Valor Engineering could sufficiently do the job and meet the deadline.
Geouque mentioned that according to state law for contracting out engineering services, the county must select a company based on merits and not because it offers a cheaper price. Once a company is found capable, price negotiations begin.
When asked, Geouque responded that the $20,510 price tag was “reasonable.”
After which the discussion veered somewhat because Chair Nathan Miller mentioned that he received a phone call from Derek Goddard of Blue Ridge Environmental Consultants, a Wilkesboro-based company that has previously done work for the county, telling Miller that he wanted to make a bid. This phone call, however, occurred after the commissioners’ meeting packet was published online, listing the price for which Valor was willing to do the work.
Just before the meeting, Goddard submitted a bid that was $4,000 cheaper than Valor’s, and the commissioners wanted to go with the lower bid because multiple staff members vouched for both companies.
“I think they are both very competent and very easy to work with,” Planning Director Joe Furman said, “I use both.”
Again Geouque said that the commissioners weren’t allowed to make a selection based on price. Geouque mentioned that Valor Engineering was selected because it was a local company in an area that doesn’t have many engineers and that “time was of the essence” because of the 90-day due diligence period that ends May 5.
Marsh added that if a bid process would have occurred it would have taken two months before the bid proposals would have been before the board of commissioners for consideration. The clock on the due diligence period began rolling once the county voted to purchase the property in early February.
Just before the vote, Commissioner David Blust said that he would vote for Valor because that is what staff recommended but that he was “not happy” about it.
Commissioner Billy Kennedy said he hoped this process was handled differently next time.
Commissioner Welch said he was glad to hire a local firm.
As mentioned earlier, Yates said he was reluctantly voting for Valor but would have liked to have seen both companies submit a bid on equal footing, so the commissioners could have saved the county some money on this job.
Miller mentioned that he was leaning towards Blue Ridge Environmental Consultants because that is the company that many of his clients from his law firm hire.
“I am more familiar with them, so that’s the way I am leaning,” Miller said.
The commissioners voted 4-1, with Miller the lone nay vote, for Valor Engineering.
According to a Feb. 11 memo from Marsh to Geouque:
“Parts of this site are within a regulated floodway and the potential building site will need to be elevated to provide better access for the Medic Base. Valor proposed to evaluate the site especially focusing on the area west of the creek where the new base will be built.
“Surveying, soil borings, septic study and location of a water supply well are items that Valor will address. The final report will include a survey with topography and locations of proposed site improvements along with a geotechnical report on the suitability of the soil to support development and a complete soil erosion control plan.”
The ambulance station, according to project information by Valor, will be located on one acre. Chair Nathan Miller previously acknowledged that the entire 13 acres was more than needed for the EMS site and the county would likely sell off the remainder not in use. The EMS site will decrease emergency response times to areas in Western Watauga.