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Lawmakers seek open bidding for construction funded by stimulus

February 13, 2010
In The News

As the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service unveiled plans for a new district office and visitors center on Brice Prairie, Wisconsin’s congressional delegation is pressuring the White House to allow local contractors to bid on several other projects funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

In a letter sent Friday, U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, a La Crosse Democrat, urged President Barack Obama to issue an executive order directing federal agencies to award Recovery Act construction contracts through bidding processes that would allow all companies to compete.

The Tribune reported Sunday that local contractors had been precluded from bidding on area projects receiving more than

$12 million from the 2009 stimulus package.

Because of pressure to spend stimulus funds as soon as possible, officials with the U.S. Geological Survey said they chose to use multiple-award contract arrangements for several projects at the Upper Mississippi Environmental Sciences Center. The Fish and Wildlife Service used a similar arrangement to bid the $6.1 million visitors center.

Three out-of-state contractors are allowed to bid on the USGS jobs. Only two were able to bid on the Fish and Wildlife project, which was awarded to Arrowhead Contracting of Kansas.

Arrowhead president Curt Koutelas said Friday that local companies will be used for all construction. He expects contracts to be signed next month and construction to begin this summer.

Kind said he supported a prohibition on earmarks in the Recovery Act, but an opening bidding process that allows local contractors a shot at those projects would “meet most fully (its) nationwide job-creating goals.”

“I firmly believe that our local, western Wisconsin businesses can compete for and win contracts against larger national companies if projects are awarded through a fair and open bidding process,” Kind wrote.

A spokesperson for Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., said his staff has placed calls to officials at the Department of Interior and Vice President Joseph Biden’s office and “will continue to work … to ensure that contracts are awarded to companies that are best-suited for the jobs.”

Fish and Wildlife officials gathered Friday at Holmen’s Sand Lake Elementary School, where student council members unveiled an architect’s rendition of the center.

A bald eagle from the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, Minn., impressed the kids and helped emphasize the message refuges are essential to protecting wildlife.

Tom Melius, regional director for Fish and Wildlife Service, said the center, which will include interpretive nature trails and wildlife observation areas, will be a place where children can go for field trips and classes.

“We’re talking about a special place (on the river) for you,” he said.

Kind said it would be “the gateway to one of the largest and most beautiful wildlife refuges in the country.”