County Loses $77K Because of Handling Of FEMA Project

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Athens County lost more than $77,000 in state and federal reimbursements because of the way a contractor was hired in 2011 by the county engineer’s department for a culvert replacement project.

County Engineer Jeff Maiden has been trying since last year to get reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for a project on County Road 36 (Hooper Ridge Road) done during the administration of his predecessor, Archie Stanley. In February, Maiden was notified that FEMA would not allow reimbursement on $88,340 paid to a local contractor.

The Messenger has been unable to make contact with Stanley regarding this article.

If the work had qualified for reimbursement, FEMA would have reimbursed 75 percent of the bill and the state would have reimbursed 12.5 percent — for a total of $77,297.

“FEMA has denied the amount paid to Athens Excavating due to improper procurement,” Laura Adcock of the Ohio Emergency Management Agency wrote to Maiden. The Ohio EMA administers FEMA projects in the state.

A 60-day appeal period expired last month.

“I couldn’t come up with a way to appeal it,” Maiden said. “I don’t have a basis for appeal.”

Athens Excavating was paid $88,340 to furnish, form and pour concrete headwalls for the project. The work was not put out to bid, and the county did not have a written contract with the company, according to Maiden, who said the owner of Athens Excavating told him a verbal quote was given.

“They’re required to follow the local procurement process,” Adcock told The Messenger.

That means following state law, according to County Commissioner Lenny Eliason. Currently, any project estimated at $100,000 or more is required to be put out to bid, but at the beginning of 2011 the threshold in state law was $25,000, increasing to $50,000 later that year, Eliason said. The Athens Excavating work exceeded both those 2011 amounts.

Eliason said he has no recollection of Stanley or anyone else from the engineer’s department bringing up the possible bidding of the work.

Staff in the commissioners’ office checked meeting minutes from 2011 and found no indication that the engineer’s department brought a contract with Athens Excavating to the commissioners for approval. There was a reference to the commissioners authorizing the engineer’s office to place up to six legal ads for bidding six FEMA projects, but staff members found no indication the Hooper Ridge project was actually put out to bid.

Athens County was among 21 counties in Ohio declared disaster areas following the flooding and severe storms that occurred April 4 to May 15 of 2011.

Bidding requirements can be waived if an emergency exists, and that may have caused some confusion in this case.

The county commissioners declared a state of emergency on May 10, 2011, but then lifted the emergency declaration on June 7, 2011. The culvert project on Hooper Ridge Road took place in the fall of 2011.

Adcock said she believes FEMA considered the project too far removed in time from the emergency situation.

A FEMA spokeswoman said Friday that the lack of a contract and failure to bid the work were both grounds for denying the reimbursement.

A FEMA project completion and certification report referenced the non-competitive nature of hiring the contractor, stating, “Athens County Engineer Depot improperly procured construction of the concrete headwalls and footers for the two multi-plate metal arch culverts by noncompetitive proposal.”

“It boils down to being able to document your process, and how you selected a contractor,” Adcock said. “They were unable to document their procurement process.”

“There should have been a contract on it … Archie never did a contract on it,” Eliason said.

In an attempt to get the reimbursement, Maiden obtained a breakdown from Athens Excavating of charges included in the bill, and Maiden also provided Adcock with information about the emergency declaration.

“I feel like I did everything I could to try to get it paid,” Maiden said.

Although FEMA did not allow reimbursement on the Athens Excavating bill, other aspects of the project were approved for reimbursement. According to Adcock, $108,450 was reimbursed.

“The prior administration left his office in chaos,” Maiden complained to Adcock in a Nov. 12 email. “The paperwork related to the FEMA projects was scattered among 17 different boxes and placed in storage in the pole building.”

After Maiden took office in January of 2013, staff members began trying to piece together documentation on projects for submission for FEMA reimbursement.