One of Evans County’s biggest road department projects is still under construction despite the temporary lapse in grant funding from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.
The project that has long concerned citizens over the county’s ability to complete the project efficiently, manpower requirements, equipment needs, and division of priorities. The La Casa development off Highway 301 just past Caddie Green Road has hit a number of road blocks, so to speak, some of which county officials say have been unavoidable.
The county is responsible for constructing the road, the drainage, and the rock road base. A private contractor is to pave the project. Parker Engineering out of Statesboro is assisting with the project.
If you drive past La Casa on any given day, it does not appear that much work has been done. There is a reason for that.
Work at Evans County’s largest dirty road community began in April of 2015, but was halted abruptly after one week when several water lines were busted. Work has only been done on a consistent basis since February 2017. Parker Engineering has said in documents that the owner of the water system provided the county with EPD documents saying the water system was outside of the county right of way, but when construction began, it was discovered the lines were actually in the right of way in some areas. Due to financial issues, the owner was not able to move the water lines. This delayed the project several months and the county issued a letter to the owner stating the county would move the lines related to the project. Ultimately, the owner sold the entire water system.
[Read the letter to the water system owner here]
The project requires the county to use one motor grader, an excavator, a backhoe, two dump trucks, a roller, and a front-end loader, much of which were needed when Hurricane Matthew hit in October, another setback for the project that requires essentially all of Evans County’s full-time road department employees nearly all of the time.
Back in April 2015, a Claxton Enterprise article quoted Road Department Head Kile DeLoach
saying the entire county would be shut down during the time La Casa was under construction. “That shuts down evans County. Nothing else will happen in Evans County,” he was quoted.
County Manager Casey Burkhalter has stressed that La Casa work has taken priority over basic maintenance projects, but says the county has never allowed the project to precede life and safety liabilities.
Many have questioned why the project was not outsourced to a private company. County Manager Casey Burkhalter has told Commissioners in open meetings that a private contractor would charge $2.2 million for the project – or a $1 million per mile. Those numbers come from Georgia Department of Transportation estimates cities and counties use when estimating costs of local streets, roads, and counties. But the question is whether or not the streets set to be paved in La Casa will require the same amount infrastructure and funding.
That is why the county sought a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) under the Georgia Department of Community Affairs. The county was awarded a $500,000 grant back in September 2014. The breakdown of work is provided in the PDF below.
[If you’re reading on a mobile device and cannot view the document, click here]
In the same Claxton Enterprise article mentioned above, Commissioner Del Beasley is quoted saying the need for quotes on outsourcing the project. It reads:
“Commissioners also approved a motion for soliciting contract prices for the work. “We need to do a price comparison,” Burkhalter said. Beasley recommended commissioners be ready to make a decision at the next meeting.”
But the May Commission meeting minutes make no mention of bids for the work of outsourcing the project, only the purchase of a third motor grader.
At the time, no estimates were obtained by any private company. Burkhalter told AllOnGeorgia that “there were no estimates prior to the project because the county has always build the base of roads prior to paving. However, CBDG rules fall under Davis Bacon wages and the county is exempt to this rule. Wage rule, coupled by private water system delays, it is impossible to estimate what it would have cost a private contractor.”
The Davis Bacon wages rule is a federal statute that mandates that all Federal Government construction contracts and the contracts for federally assisted construction over $2000 must contain the appropriate Davis-Bacon Wage determination. The Davis Bacon wage in Evans County for highway project is $10.20 an hour of minimum wage per employee working, and increases based on skill and qualifications (Ex: Guardrail installers earns $15.29/hour) but the county is not bound by those standards. A private contractor would be.
Glen Misner from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs confirmed on June 26 that the grant received by Evans County had not only expired, but lapsed back in May. While it is not unusual for a grant to expire, extensions are usually requested and approved before the expiration date to avoid any issues with compliance or funding.
Parker Engineering penned a letter to DCA on June 29 explaining the water system problems on behalf of the county and justifying a need for additional time.
According to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, Evans County cannot currently draw any funds from the grant if it not approved and while they do not foresee any issues approving the extension, the agency does not like projects to go beyond two years time and a delay means the county is not eligible to apply for CDBG grants in the upcoming year. DCA will probe the county for additional paperwork should issues continue to arise.
County Clerk Jeremy Gove says work has not stopped at La Casa – and won’t. The county is able to facilitate the costs in the meantime.
So why did the grant expire in the first place? Burkhalter said in an email that an extension request was sent before the expiration, through Parker Engineering, but there was a miscommunication. That led the county contact DCA directly and DCA has requested additional information from the engineer. No paperwork was provided on the county’s correspondence with DCA, but the letter from the engineer to DCA is available here.
As of July 5, $246,705.40, or 49%, of the $500,000 grant have been withdrawn. Of that, the county has matched its own $239,696.
In the letter to DCA, Parker Engineering said the project would be completed before the bid is awarded and “the paving contractor selected will also pave the next two phases. If the CBDG contract is not extended by DCA, Evans County will not award the paving contract to the lowest bidder,” it read. Essentially, the county would have to stop work on the project.
The engineer for the project, Parker Engineering, says the project is set to be completed in three phases and the County is currently 90% complete with phase one – or roughly 29% of the project overall.
The full letter from Parker Engineering to DCA is below.
[If you’re reading on a mobile device and cannot view the PDF, click here]