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City Council Chair asks specific questions about drainage projects

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Posted at 3:34 PM, Jun 08, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-08 16:34:08-04

At Tuesday's council meetings, City Council Chair Nanette Cook delivered a list of very specific questions about the Guillory administration's drainage projects.

"We are going to submit some questions to the administration just for some clarity on a couple of things - well, there are several things on this list - in light of all the drainage projects that are happening in the community, some in litigation and some that are actually happening," Cook said. "There are several things are going on that I personally need a little more clarity on to understand what some of these projects are and where we are in terms of funding, what money is left in a lot of our emergency drainage funds."

Cook said she would like responses from the administration within two weeks, and said she plans to put a discussion item on the first July council meeting agenda to revisit these issues.

"I don't expect an answer from administration at this point, these are a lot of questions. I'm going to ask that we get a response in two weeks. If we can get it done in two weeks, just submit this information to us in two weeks by email and we'll put it on the agenda for the first meeting of July.... we will have discussion," Cook said.

The questions, which you can read for yourself by scrolling down, include requests for extremely specific information regarding payments to a contractor who completed a controversial spoil bank project in St. Martin Parish which currently is the subject of a federal lawsuit and a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers investigation, as well as all payments made out of several "Bayou Vermilion Flood Control" projects. It also asks for detailed documentation of the bid process for those projects, and detailed information regarding the charges and payments made.

There are two questions that dig into the way the spoil banks project was handled:

"Why was the As-Needed Excavation Project utilized to remove the spoil banks in St. Martin Parish? How can the Administration justify paying nearly $2 million in mobilization charges for the spoil banks work when the bid for that work specifically required mobilizations costs to be worked into the unit prices? Who made the decision to pay the contractor for the requested mobilization charges?"

"At what point was it determined, or should it have been determined, that the spoil banks removal work would require barges? If this was known prior to the As-Needed Excavation Project being bid out, why was barge costs not included in the bid form? If the need for barges was discovered after the bid process, why was the project not re-bid? How can the Administration justify paying more than $1 million for barge rental when those costs were not included in the public bid?"

In recent months, LCG has landed in court several times over drainage projects, mostly because of a so-called "quick-take" process of expropriating property for those projects. LCG lost at least one of those cases, in which a court ruled that the property wasn't properly taken and that LCG wasn't even able to justify using it in the first place.

One case, still pending in federal court, involved the removal of spoil banks in St. Martin Parish. The Current reported last month that the project "side-stepped the transparency and cost controls required of public contracting, (and) may itself have violated public bid law, according to interviews with a dozen contractors, engineers, lawyers and former LCG employees."

The project cost $3.7 million, but was never publicly bid, The Current reports. Instead, it was performed under a $390,000 contract that was awarded for "as-needed excavation work," the newspaper reports. It is this project that the two questions above are referring to.

Executed and paid for in days, the spoil banks operation is emblematic of the quick pace of government the Guillory administration has bragged about but has nonetheless landed it in legal trouble, The Current reports. And the peculiar vehicle for awarding such a large contract, in effect side-stepping the transparency and cost controls required of public contracting, may itself have violated public bid law, according to interviews with a dozen contractors, engineers, lawyers and former LCG employees, The Current reports.

Most of the professionals contacted for the story reviewed documents The Current received from LCG and spoke on the condition of anonymity, so as not to jeopardize ongoing relationships with local government. Over the past several months, The Current has reviewed hundreds of of pages of court documents and records obtained from LCG related to its immense capital program for drainage, the newspaper reports.

The Current's story says that bid law exists to protect against cost overruns and to keep negotiations honest. Whether the amended contract was awarded illegally hinges on if the work on the spoil banks falls within the scope of the original contract. And experts agree there is good reason to question the scope, in large part because it increased the value of the original contract tenfold, The Current reports.

“If you materially change the original scope of the contract, then you can’t just amend it like that and be in compliance with the bid law. You have to go out and re-bid it,” former Louisiana Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera tells the newspaper. “And certainly going from three hundred thousand or four hundred thousand dollars to three or four million would be a material change in the contract. So it sounds to me like they’re in violation of the bid law.”

To read the whole story with all the details on The Current's investigation, click here.

At issue is a project that LCG already has completed in St. Martin Parish, which removed decades-old levees on property partially owned by LCG. St. Martin Parish officials said that LCG did the project in the dark of night, and without permits from either the parish or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. LCG already had filed for a permit at a different location with the Corps; that permit application was withdrawn after St. Martin told the Corps that no parish permits for it would be granted.

The Corps launched an investigation into the project, and issued a cease-and-desist letter. More than a month later, LCG responded to say the project was done properly.

The lawsuit was filed by LCG in Lafayette district court, asking a judge to rule that the project had done properly. St. Martin Parish Government already had decided to file suit, but LCG filed suit first, naming St. Martin and the Corps. A short time later, the Corps had the suit moved to federal court.