Fish lab contract reopened for bids
A federal construction project at the French Island fish lab previously restricted to out-of-state contractors will be open to all bidders after the U.S. Department of Interior reversed a decision by the U.S. Geological Survey.
The 22,000-square-foot addition - known as Segment D - to the Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center is projected to cost between $5.5 million and $6.25 million and is funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
The Tribune reported in February that local contractors were precluded from bidding on several local jobs - including Segment D - receiving more than $12 million from the 2009 stimulus package.
USGS officials said because of pressure to spend stimulus funds quickly they used a streamlined bidding process that limited projects at the center to three preapproved companies, all out of state.
U.S. Rep. Ron Kind said Monday that Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar had agreed the bid process should be open.
"It's a fairness issue," the La Crosse Democrat said. "If a local contractor thinks they can do a good job for a fair price, they should be allowed to be part of the bid process."
New plans call for bids to be awarded by the end of May and construction to begin this summer.
The USGS planned to bid 20 to 24 projects nationwide through preapproved contractors. Kind spokeswoman Leah Hunter said the UMESC project is the only one being rebid.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service used a similar process for a $6.1 million visitors center on Brice Prairie, which was awarded last month to Arrowhead Contracting of Kansas. Arrowhead President Curt Koutelas said local companies will be used for all construction, expected to begin this summer.
In February, Kind wrote to President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden to protest the bidding process. A spokesperson for Sen. Herb Kohl said his staff also called the Department of Interior and Biden's office.
Area construction firms welcomed the change.
"That's incredible," said Dan Graham, business manager for La Crosse-based Fowler & Hammer.
Bud Miyamoto of La Crosse-based Market & Johnson Inc. was equally excited.
"That's great news," he said. "There are so many good companies we have locally that would do an excellent job."