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UPDATE: City Council to discuss drainage projects, including "public bid law"

Posted at 3:25 PM, Jun 06, 2022

The agenda of a special City Council meeting tomorrow includes a discussion of recent drainage projects, LCG records show.

The agenda of the 5:30 p.m. meeting includes the following item: "Follow up discussion on drainage projects to include a discussion on public bid law, contracts and legal services."

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.

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.

The most recent action in the case was this week, when the court granted a motion from LCG for an extension of time to file a response to a filing by St. Martin Parish.