Opinion

Port’s purchasing policies warrant scrutiny

When the Port of Bremerton dished out that big tax increase not long ago, it wasn’t as if it didn’t have something to spend the money on.

Not when it made a change in contractors for power bollards or pedestals for the Bremerton Marina construction project to a firm whose product not only cost three times as much, but had never built such devices before.

The bollards, which are for boats to plug into for power, would have cost $160,000 from the original contractor selected by the port to supply them, and will be $500,000 more under the firm that got the job instead.

Why the switch? Well, let’s start at the beginning.

It was back on Jan. 12 that port commissioners met and opened bids for the marina expansion job, which involves building a huge, new concrete breakwater. The low bidder was American Construction Co. of Tacoma, at $14,237,000 plus tax.

During a Jan. 31 meeting to review the bids, American’s bid was accepted, and port staffer Steve Slaton stated there may be change orders required that would need immediate turn around time and got the commission’s permission to give that authority to the port’s chief executive officer, Ken Attebery.

A couple of weeks later, a change order gave the contract for the power pedestals to Leader International of Port Orchard.

That was a shock to the Will-Burt Co. of Ohio, whose power pedestals are an industry standard.

A company representative fired off a letter to the port, pointing out that the original request for proposals for the marina called for Will-Burt II pedestals along the waterfront.

Will-Burt designs, data and schematics had been supplied to the Port’s architect during the design phase.

Not only is Leader’s cost exorbitant, said Will-Burt, it’s an unproven product “and very likely Leader’s first foray into the marina lighting and electric utility market.”

There’s no assurance it will be UL-certified or approved by the National Fire protection Association. The port was asked to reconsider.

Port attorney Gordon Walgren responded in a letter explaining the change was made at the request of the city of Bremerton that the bollards conform to the design of lighting component currently used by the city.

The port bowed to the customer’s wishes.

These people who had the rug pulled out from under them are miffed, I told Walgren. When is a change order not a change order and becomes a sole source purchase?

“I understand their being miffed,” he said. “The change order is to bring conformance to other designs being done downtown. The fact is, the city’s representative, Gary Sexton, was — I don’t want to say insistent, but he wanted us to have the same sort of design. Normally, on change orders, it’s my practice and that of other lawyers, that when a change order has the effect of changing the total contract, at that point I recommend they go out for bid again. It did not. The total amount was something like 3.3 percent over, although it certainly was more than the original. Leader is local and I always like to do business locally if we can.”

That tiny percentage, I gather, is the effect of $500,000 on top of the $14 million, rather than comparing $160,000 to $560,000.

What it looks like to me is that at the time of the award, port employees realized that the Will-Burt pedestals were in the design already and they needed to get that out and substitute Leader, so they got change order authority and did it to satisfy Sexton.

What does Sexton care if it’s $500,000 more? It doesn’t come out of his pocket.

Adele Ferguson can be reached at PO Box 69, Hansville, WA 98340.

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