New River dredging to commence in “a couple of weeks”

The original Project Map for New River Dredging from 2018.

As currently configured, East Ascension Drainage District awarded “the largest project this body has approved” on Monday when a $3,299,285 bid for New River Channel Improvements was accepted by a unanimous vote.  One of two, Bridging the Gap Solutions’ bid came in $1.5 million lower than Boone Services’ offering to dredge 2.2 miles of New River in furtherance of a project first approved in 2017.

Originally it called for 2.7 miles of dredging but President Clint Cointment initiated work “in-house” three months ago as another in a never-ending queue of storms threatened Ascension in mid-June.  Parish DPW undertook installation of a gate valve to replace the weir in Smith Bayou and commence dredging half-a-mile of New River.  Cointment’s DPW will also replace the weir behind Walmart with a control structure pursuant to an amendment to the initial approval.

New River weir behind Walmart

Even with the scaled back project Boone Services bid increased by $118,000 from earlier this year while Bridging the Gap’s proposal knocked off $644,000.

NOTE:  Bids were first let in 2019 when a contract was awarded, $4.436 Million from B & K Construction in August of that year.  The company pulled out after failing to include certain wetlands mitigation costs in its bid.

Bridging the Gap’s lowball bid would seem to be a real boon for Ascension taxpayers.  So much so that Councilman Joel Robert raised concerns that the company, owned by Prairieville’s James Moore and Collis Temple, III, will return to EA Drainage seeking change orders to inflate the agreed upon price.  Robert explored the possibility that a cap could be placed on the number and amount of any such requests, advocating the setting of benchmarks which would trigger payments pursuant to an agreed upon schedule.

Councilman Chase Melancon noted that a bid bond will be required to protect the parish, adding that any change orders will be subject to approval by EA Drainage.

“The contractor is ready to go,” assured H. Davis Cole, the engineer in charge of the project who opined that work can commence “in a couple of weeks…We will account for every cubic yard that comes out of the canal every day, and the contractor will be paid based on that.”

Councilman Corey Orgeron, one of three lawyers on the council, expressed concern that pending litigation might expose the parish to legal difficulties.  Bridging the Gap’s first bid had been accepted, then voided by Judge Tess Percy Stromberg in litigation filed by Boone Services, pushing its bid to the winner’s circle temporarily.  Bridging the Gap appealed to the First Circuit where the case, while unresolved, would seem to be moot.

President Cointment, subsequent to initiating the scaled down project in June, put the remainder out for another bid (the one awarded to Bridging the Gap on Monday).  Since Parish Attorney Jean Paul Robert could not log into the virtual meeting (“These Zoom meetings are horrible”-Corey Orgeron), it was left to the parish president to explain.

“Due to the fact that we did (.5 miles of dredging/gate valve on Smith Bayou) in-house, the earlier contract is voided,” Cointment summarized the legal opinion from the Parish Attorney.

Cointment alerted the membership that New River water levels will have to be drawn down to allow dredging, something that garners attention from a watchful citizenry.  Public notices to that effect will be made prior to implementation.