Questions Still Hang on MSD Bidding Practices

By on April 18, 2017
Abdul-Ghani Mekkauoui, project manager for Detroit area-based Jay Dee Contractors, listens while MSD Executive Director Brian Hoelscher attempts to answer one of his questions. 

by Tom Finan, Executive Director, Construction Forum STL

The MSD  meeting at the Moolah Ballroom in Maryland Heights Tuesday (April 17) had many of the earmarks of a NASCAR race… except for the crash.

Abdul-Ghani Mekkauoui, project manager
for Detroit area-based Jay Dee Contractors,
listens while MSD Executive Director
Brian Hoelscher attempts to
answer one of his questions. 

The room was packed with people — primes and subcontractors waiting to hear about the fiscal year 2018 capital improvement and replacement program. There were logos everywhere of organizations who wanted to collaborate with M/WBE contractors. There were  monotonous laps and laps of project details and inclusion rules. But the big crash that a many in the room were anticipating never happened.

After the project lineup and inclusion participation presentations, MSD Executive Director Brian Hoelscher spoke. Hoelscher praised the contractors in the room for their low bids and outlined a stormwater funding measure that MSD may put in front of City and County voters in 2019 if they obtain rate commission approval. At that point Hoelscher opened it up for questions. There was only one taker, but that was the one that could have been anticipated.

Abdul-Ghani Mekkauoui, a project manager for Jay Dee Contractors, Inc. of Livonia, MI asked Hoelscher questions about the Deer Creek tunnel project. Last week the MSD board in a tie vote opted not to to award the project to the low bidder, a joint venture between Jay Dee Contractors and Frontier-Kemper Constructors of California.

Trustee Michael Yates, who had voted to introduce the contract ordinance in February, changed his vote to a no, providing the swing that killed the contract. Yates, a business representative with Operating Engineers Local 148 was quoted in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as saying: “I have my reasons, and that’s all I’m saying.”
Mekkauoui asked Hoelscher several questions, including how the board could act against staff recommendations, whether MSD had a bias favoring local contractors, and how contractors could expect to have any confidence in MSD’s bid process.
Hoelscher said that the trustees were not bound by staff recommendations, that there was no bias in favor of local contractors, and that contractors’ perceptions were essentially their own business.

There were no further questions from the audience.

Afterwards Mekkaoui told that JD/FK is “evaluating our options,” which he said included possible legal action against MSD. “How can contractors have confidence (in MSD’s process)?,” he asked.

A conversation with the president of a major infrastructure contractor confirmed Mekkaoui’s question. Agreeing to comment provided that his remarks not be attributed, the executive observed. “Something smells here. I don’t have a dog in this, but it seems like (MSD) has a preference for local contractors.”

Facts in the Deer Creek Bid Situation

  1. A joint venture of Michigan-based Jay Dee Contractors, Inc. and Indiana-based Frontier-Kemper had the lowest bid at $145.3 million to replace a tunnel between Clayton Road in Clayton to I-44 in Shrewsbury
  2. The bid was $2.5 million under the bid by SAK Construction of O’Fallon, a contractor which has won significant MSD Work.
  3. It was also under the MSD engineers’ estimate of $205.2 million.
  4. SAK filed a total of four protests related to the minority participation aspects of JD/FK’s bid. All four protests were rejected.
  5. The MSD board of trustees voted  5-1 in the trustees’ public meeting not to introduce the JD/FK contract for approval. No specific reason was given for the trustees’ decision to reject their staff’s recommendation.
  6. JD/FK was directed by MSD staff in a letter to submit a substitution for A.L.L.. JDFK’s substitution, which followed MSD staff’s guidelines. consisted of self-performing the work originally submitted for A.L.L. and increasing W/MBE participation in other areas.
  7. The trustees agreed in their public meeting to approve the JD/FK submittal and move it along to the next step.
  8. Last week the trustees voted 3:3 on approval, killing the contract award. The contract can now either be awarded to SAK the second lowest bid, or rebid. 

About Tom Finan