The issue, which we reported on in our Tuesday edition, involves a project to relocate the Shoshone Municipal Water Pipeline that delivers water from Buffalo Bill Reservoir to a number of communities, including Powell, as well as to the Northwest …
A controversy over the bidding of a pipeline project west of Powell illustrates the complexities public entities face as they try to spend public money responsibly.
The issue, which we reported on in our Tuesday edition, involves a project to relocate the Shoshone Municipal Water Pipeline that delivers water from Buffalo Bill Reservoir to a number of communities, including Powell, as well as to the Northwest Rural Water District. A portion of that line must be relocated to accommodate the widening of U.S. 14A between Powell and Cody, and the joint powers board that governs the pipeline is seeking bids to complete the $6.6 million project.
Unfortunately, the board set qualifications for submitting bids so narrow that no Wyoming contractor could meet them. The five companies qualified to submit bids all are from other states, and at least one Wyoming firm has raised objections about the process, arguing that the qualifications set were unreasonable because there are Wyoming contractors who are fully capable of doing the work. Moreover, shutting Wyoming companies out of the process is in conflict with Wyoming’s efforts to give preference to Wyoming firms when public projects are concerned.
It is important to note that the Shoshone Municipal Water Pipeline Joint Powers Authority board did not deliberately shut out Wyoming companies. The project must be completed within a short window following the end of the irrigation season. At some point, water delivery through the pipeline will be disrupted, and that disruption cannot last more than 24 hours. With that in mind, the board wanted contractors who had worked on 24-inch pipe within the last five years. Board members were acting in good faith on behalf of the people served by the pipeline and were not deliberately shutting out Wyoming contractors.
The Sheridan contracting firm that raised the issue asked for a review, and the Wyoming Water Development Commission — which, along with the Wyoming Department of Transportation and the Pipeline Authority, is funding the project — facilitated a meeting with the joint powers board, the Wyoming Contractors Association, WYDOT and a representative of the governor’s office.
It was determined that the contractor did have a legitimate concern, but that the pipeline authority’s concern about the need for a contractor with experience in similar projects also was valid. Ultimately, it was the joint powers board’s decision, and the state chose not to interfere. The pipeline board chose not to revisit the bid qualifications to avoid delaying the process.
In the future, though, the Water Development Commission will review bid proposals more carefully and will forward bid proposal packets to the Wyoming Contractors Association.
Whether the standards of the joint powers board were too strict is not a question we can answer, but it is fair to say that they set those standards with the welfare of the communities and individuals they serve in mind. That’s what we expect governing boards, including city councils, school boards and county commissions, to do. We also expect our public money to be spent in ways that will benefit the local and state economy, which includes using in-state contractors as much as possible. Sometimes those expectations conflict with each other.
In the current situation, we feel the joint powers board is correct in proceeding with the bidding as planned, and the Wyoming Water Commission is correct in allowing the process to continue.
But there will be more and bigger projects in the future, and we trust that both state and local governments will learn from the current controversy and do a more careful review of bid proposals in the future.