Action Alert: Customs Item 8A3, 9:15 AM Tuesday

Flight path near YMCA athletic fields in the center of Stuart: Martin County residents will find a major airport in their backyard if a customs facility is approved. (Source: Martin County Times)

Civic activist and renowned local attorney Ginny Sherlock provides an overview of Customs Item 8A3, set to be heard before the Martin County Commission, 9:15 AM, Tuesday, March 17:

The Martin County Commission will again consider moving forward with a fee-based Customs Facility at Witham Field despite at least a 15% cost increase over previous construction cost projections.

Agenda Item 8A3 is scheduled to be heard beginning at 9:15 a.m. on Tuesday, March 17. As staff notes in the agenda summary, the BOCC voted 3-2 (Commissioners Heard and Fielding dissenting) on August 5, 2014, to move forward with the project if the low bid for construction fell within the projected cost.

Since all five bids received earlier this year exceeded the projected cost, Commissioners are being asked on Tuesday to approve the low bid — which is $191,732 higher than the projected cost, even after cost reductions achieved by dropping certain features are factored in.

The bids set out in the agenda packet are not the same as the bids in the Bid Tabulation sheet (attached) which include a “base bid” from each bidder and a bid with adjustments for various alternates identified as the “total base and alternates” bid. Staff recommends approval of a bid from long-time Fort Pierce contractor Paul Jacquin & Sons (builder of the Digital Domain building in Port St. Lucie), which is set out as $1,405,360.

But the Bid Tabulation sheet shows that Paul Jacquin & Sons’ “base bid” was higher — $1,433,360 — and Jacquin was not the low bidder for total base bid and alternates. The low bid for “total base and alternates” was submitted by Anatom (at $1,442,918 compared with Paul Jacquin & Sons’ base plus alternates bid of $1,455,360).

The agenda packet does not describe the “alternates” but staff apparently is seeking approval of the low bid consisting of base plus alternates #1, #2, #3, and #4. There is no explanation of what these alternates represent or why alternate #5 is not included.

The BOCC is being asked to approve an amendment to the Capital Improvements Plan to include the increased cost for construction reflected in the base bid plus alternates #1 through #4, although the figures in the proposed FY2014 CIP amendment don’t add up ($211,410 for design plus $1,271,828 for construction = $1,675,038).

Apparently, if the BOCC approves staff’s recommendation, alterations will be made in the project to reduce the final cost. Nonetheless, staff is asking the Commission to approve a $250,000 “contingency fund” consisting of an additional $200,000 FDOT grant and a $50,000 match from airport funds to cover costs in excess of the projected cost plus additional amounts that will undoubtedly arise from change orders submitted during the course of construction.

As with previous Customs presentations, proponents are claiming that opponents are spreading “lies” — including the “lie” that the airport has not repaid hundreds of thousands of dollars “borrowed” from the General Fund. Repayment was made last month without public disclosure and does not change the fact that the airport has borrowed from and used ad valorem tax dollars in the past and will likely do so in the future to pay expenses not paid from airport funds.

Proponents refuse to acknowledge that opponents have genuine concerns about costs and the impacts of the Customs project to their neighborhoods and the community as a whole. Opponents include environmentalists, boaters, pilots, retirees, business owners, and others who live and work in Martin County.

Proponents claim an overwhelming majority of Martin County voters supports the Customs Facility. But there is no evidence to back up this claim. Commissioners Fielding and Heard previously proposed putting the Customs Facility on a referendum ballot to determine the true level of support or opposition of Martin County voters.

If they are so certain that the majority of Martin County voters favors the Customs project, why can’t proponents join opponents in supporting a referendum to confirm that claim?

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