Fairbanks businesses question Army Corps contracting process

Those left out of $630 million in projects say system is unfair

Posted: Friday, August 03, 2007

FAIRBANKS - Some Fairbanks companies are questioning the selection process for multimillion-dollar military construction contracts awarded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Alaska.

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Business leaders and Corps officials planned to discuss on Thursday why local contractors were not chosen to bid. They include Col. Frank Wilson, commander of the Alaska Engineering District.

The Multiple Award Task Order Contract was awarded Friday. The Army Corps selected six eligible contractors to bid on 35 military construction projects over the next three to five years.

The projects could be worth up to $630 million, making this contract one of the most lucrative in the history of the Army Corps in Alaska.

Several Fairbanks contractors who were not chosen and some area leaders believe the selection process is unfair. The six companies that received contracts are based in Anchorage or maintain offices there.

They are Alutiiq International Solutions, Bristol Design Build Services, Chugach Government Services, CH2M Hill Facilities and Infrastructure, Watterson/

Davis and Unit Co.

Wilson will meet with Fairbanks Economic Development Corp. President Jim Dodson, borough Mayor Jim Whitaker and city Mayor Steve Thompson.

Local contractors have not been invited to the meeting.

Dodson wants the Army Corps to reassess the MATOC applications but acknowledged that would be unlikely.

"I really honestly don't have a feeling of what's going to come out of the meeting," Dodson said.

Whitaker brought the issue to Gov. Sarah Palin on Tuesday but would not comment on her response. Palin's office did not return a call for comment.

"All we can do is raise it to a very high political level and hope we get some fairness," Whitaker said from Juneau on Tuesday night.

According to federal regulations, the Corps cannot base its selections on location, Army Corps officials said.

In 2002 the Corps used the MATOC process and awarded $400 million in projects to four Anchorage-based companies.

Corps officials said they think the MATOC process streamlines construction work by limiting the field of bidders to only the most qualified candidates.

Even though fewer companies get to bid, the Corps argues that the process has increased competition by guaranteeing several companies will bid on a given project.

But MATOC-awarded companies are not even required to bid, and the Corps will pay a company $10,000 if it fails to win any projects.

The Corps typically chooses between two and six companies for a MATOC depending on the size and number of projects being bid on, said Alaska Army Corps spokeswoman Pat Richardson.

"If you get too many, it's no different than a normal contracting mechanism," Richardson said.

Companies are chosen based on the recommendations of two teams, but the final decision comes down to the chief of contracting, Chris Tew.

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