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Firm says Port of St. Helens didn't play by its own rules

A bid process for site design at McNulty Industrial Park in St. Helens has caused a stir between the Port of St. Helens and a contracting firm.

AKS Engineering & Forestry, LLC, a Tualatin-based engineering firm, protested the port’s recent bid award to Lower Columbia Engineering, saying the port didn’t follow its own criteria when choosing a company to complete the estimated $60,000 design project.

COURTNEY VAUGHN - Mike Avent, center, president of the Port of St. Helens Board of Commissioners, confers with fellow commissioners Terry Luttrell, right, and Paulette Lichatowich, left, during a meeting on Jan. 6. A recent bid award for the design of an undeveloped industrial park drew a complaint from an out-of-town contractor.A letter from AKS Engineering alleges the port provided three criteria for evaluating four firms that submitted bids for site design work. When it came to choosing a company, AKS indicated commissioners strayed from the criteria, opting to choose the lowest bidder, in this case, a St. Helens-based firm, rather than the most qualified.

“The RFP clearly states on page 2 that ‘Experience and references most similar to the Scope of Work will be weighted most heavily,’” the letter states. “The scoring results indicate that AKS received the highest points possible in all categories..”

The letter references scoring results, which indicated Lower Columbia Engineering was the least qualified of the firms evaluated, scoring only 75 percent of the possible points.

Records show port commissioners voted Dec. 9 to award the bid to Lower Columbia Engineering. The port has used the local firm to complete several other projects in the past.

Following an executive session meeting earlier this month, the commission announced it would address the letter of protest.

“We talked back and forth and tried to get a legal opinion, but we wanted to wait until we had a full board present,” said Mike Avent, president of the Port of St. Helens Board of Commissioners. “We definitely want to try to do the right thing for everybody.”

Scott Jensen, a planner with the port, said the port budgeted $60,000 for the project, based on a grant it received for the site design. He explained that the port was not required to use the formal RFP process to solicit bids.

Commissioners have yet to decide how to proceed, but they could opt to cancel the process and simply hand select a contractor from a group of solicited bids.