Why projects take so long? New River Dredging a prime example

In early 2019 Ascension’s Infrastructure Director Project pitched the project as benefitting six council districts.

On February 16, 2005, while considering Old Business, East Ascension Drainage Commission approved a contract for “the design phase of the Bayou Francois and New River Dredging Project.”  16 years later and…New River is still awaiting the dredge with Bayou Francois removed from consideration.  The New River job is bogged down in litigation seeking to enjoin the most recent low bidder, Bridging the Gap, LLC, and the parish from entering into a contract.

EA Drainage, and President Clint Cointment’s administration, eagerly await the day when an actual contract can be awarded to get New River dredged.  Cointment’s plans include replacement of the weir, located behind the Gonzales’ Walmart, to be accomplished in-house.  Nothing is a given considering the project’s history.

New River weir

Comical as it all is, the project appeared to be on track before the current cast of characters emerged on-stage.  Delayed nearly three years by former DPW Director Bill Roux’s insistence that the City of Gonzales foot half the $20 Million bill for a multi-layered drainage channel, realistic plans took shape in 2018 after Roux’s retirement.

In August of 2019 a $4.436 Million bid from B & K Construction was accepted by EA Drainage.  And all seemed well, but when the company mobilized at the end of 2019 it was “realized the project could not be done without (unforeseen) wetlands mitigation.”  Cointment, whose tenure had not commenced when the project was approved, urged the Drainage Board to rethink the design in one particular.

In July 2020 the parish president recommended installation of a control mechanism as opposed to demolition and removal of the New River weir.  According to Public Works Director Ron Savoy such a control mechanism would provide many benefits:

  • Retention of some water would allow for easier maintenance
  • Wildlife would not be impacted
  • Top-water would mask the “stench of sewage” present in multiple channels

Resistance from Councilman John Cagnolatti, whose District 10 includes the weir, spurred Cointment to pursue installation of a control structure in-house.  But first, a second round of bidding had to be completed.

Budgeted at $5 million, dredging of New River was initially awarded to Bridging the Gap Solutions.  Subsequently, “Solutions” was dropped from the low-bidder’s corporate moniker, a technicality insufficient to derail its offering.  But there were other miscues which the 23rd Judicial District Court was unable to ignore.

The second place bidder filed suit, seeking an injunction prohibiting Ascension Parish from entering into a contract with Bridging the Gap.  That relief was granted by the district court.

Which is unfortunate since Bridging the Gap’s low bid came in at $3,944,300 according to tabulations by the project engineer, H. Davis Cole, on September 30, 2020.  $754,000 less than Boone Services’ second place bid, Judge Tess Stromberg granted Boone’s request for injunction on February 12, then denied Bridging the Gap’s request for a new trial on March 2, because the company’s…

“…bid packet was devoid of any written evidence that BTG filed, into the appropriate records, an affidavit, resolution, or other acknowledged authentic document showing that Mr. Moore was authorized to submit bids for public contracts.”

Louisiana Bid Law mandates, among numerous technical requirements, that a bidder must include a signatory with evidence of authority to represent the corporate entity.  Judge Stromberg, in her Reasons for Judgment, found that Bridging the Gap failed to provide sufficient evidence that James Moore had such authority.

The company currently has two members, Prairieville’s Moore and Baton Rouge’s Collis Temple, III, neither of whom have demonstrated any ability to accomplish the project.  Originally they had included Kelly Sills of Coastal Bridge, LLC infamy on the team.   Neither Sills, nor his company appear on any pertinent documentation as Bridging the Gap stumbles its way into losing the job.

Appealing Judge Stromberg’s ruling, the court mandated a $75,000 Appeal Bond which the company (as principal) and James Moore (as surety) tried to post by Moore’s signature, and nothing more.  Boone Services contested the bond because there is nothing in the record “proving that he is worth the amount for which he bound himself therein, in assets subject to execution, over and above all of his other obligations.”

Ascension’s taxpayers having nothing to prove that Bridging the Gap is capable of doing the job at any price.  Even with Kelly Sills’ spotty record, Coastal Bridge has done some work of the project’s scale, though not always satisfactorily.  It was booted off a job on Hwy 431 by Louisiana’s DOTD in a few years back; has defaulted on six other DOTD projects according to multiple media reports; Coastal stands accused of pocketing $880,000 of DOTD’s, money earmarked for the State Police in return for providing security during 2018’s repair of the Sunshine Bridge; most recently, an employee claimed insurance premiums taken out of his Coastal Bridge paychecks did not go toward securing actual coverage…

Kelly Sills

And now, according to the Orlando Sentinel, Sills faces trespassing charges because he would not leave Disney World’s property after refusing a compulsory temperature check.

Bridging the Gap and Kelly Sills have been good for a couple of yuks, but it is time to move on.  Ascension taxpayers, along with their elected representatives, deserve assurances that New River Dredging will be done, and done right.