Contractor takes issue with county’s bid awarding process
Published on Wed, 04/27/2022 – 12:00am
By Scott Shindledecker – Enterprise Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 27, 2022
A Belgrade contractor has a problem with the way he believes Park County is conducting its business.
Battle Ridge Builders owner Cody Ham protested the awarding of a contract at Tuesday’s meeting by the Park County Commission to the TCA Group for the replacement of three bridges in the Cooke City area.
“I think there is a clear conflict of interest here and I am protesting this bid,” Ham said on a phone call during Tuesday’s meeting. The CEO of both Stahly Engineering and the TCA Group is Greg Benjamin. They hold the keys to the castle to do work in Park County and are basically stifling competition.”
Stahly Engineering and Associates is a firm with an office in Bozeman that Park County has contracted with frequently for road and bridge work over the last several years.
According to the Commission, the TCA bid for the Cooke City bridge work was $829,730 while Battle Ridge Builders’ bid was $835,080.
“We did take into consideration Battle Ridge’s considerations,” Commission Chair Steve Caldwell said during Tuesday’s meeting. He later opted to have no further comment on the matter.
In an April 8 letter from Stahly Engineering & Associate’s Nate Peressini, the firm’s bridge and hydraulics engineer, Peressini recommended the county award the contract to TCA Group (formerly TCA, Inc.) In the letter, Peressini explained in Stahly’s 12 previous jobs with TCA, based in Billings, work on those jobs was completed in the specified time and budget with either minimal or no change orders.
In a phone interview Wednesday, Benjamin said he appreciated any concerns that arose out of TCA Group’s involvement in the bid process.
“I respect any concerns that came up, and I’ll be stepping forward to talk to the counties we do business with about this,” Benjamin said.
Benjamin said he wanted to transition TCA, Inc. to TCA Group is born of a desire to maintain a workforce that can build bridges in Montana.
“As it is, we don’t have enough contractors in Montana to do all the bridge work, so our efforts were to maintain a construction industry here to do the work,” Benjamin said. “Everything we’re doing is in the best interest of Montana and its counties.”
Ham also wrote a letter dated April 8, to the County Commission detailing his protest of TCA Group’s bid.
“There is a clear conflict of interest associated with hiring a contractor that is to an effect, owned and operated by the engineer on a design/bid project. This is not in Park County’s best interest,” Ham wrote.
During Tuesday’s Commission meeting, Ham also took issue with the fact that his letter of protest was not included in the Commission’s April 19 meeting agenda.
“They didn’t share this information with the public, so that’s interesting,” Ham said.
Ham cited a section of the Montana Engineers Code of Ethics, Section 2, Part 4, in his argument that a conflict of interest exists.
It reads: “Engineers shall disclose all known or potential conflicts of interest that could influence or appear to influence their judgment or the quality of their services.”
Ham also wrote that Stahly’s involvement in a company bidding on its designs was problematic.
“Stahly has been retained by Park County for years now, but the fact that they are also highly involved in a company bidding on their own designs was never disclosed before the bid,” Ham wrote. “I know this as they disclosed it during session, after the bid opening, with a conversation to the commissioners. There was ample time to disclose to the commission prior but that was not done.”
Ham cited another provision from the Engineers Code of Ethics – Qualifications of Contractor in his protest. It states, “The contractor shall have constructed at least three bridges, including driving piling, in the last 24 months in order to satisfy the previous experience qualifications.”
Ham wrote that TCA was incorporated on Nov. 30, 2021, and to the best of his knowledge, hadn’t built one bridge with piling since its inception.
“How does that meet the abovementioned standard placed in the specifications by Stahly? It doesn’t,” Ham wrote. “This would have potentially been used to exclude other contractors, even discouraging them from bidding since they do not meet the qualification standard.”
But Benjamin countered in a letter to the county Commission, dated April 20, that TCA Group, based in Billings, was established at the end of 2021 and acquired TCA, Inc. as well as its equipment, labor resources, construction materials, knowledge and 20 years of experience. Benjamin wrote that the goal is to continue long-term construction services for counties and rural bridges throughout Montana.