City cuts engines on Technomarine

PAHOKEE — City commissioners voted as one Tuesday night to cancel the city’s design/build contract with Technomarine Group for renovating Pahokee’s marina and campground on the Lake Okeechobee waterfront and preparing its restaurant for reopening.

The motion, made by Vice Mayor Clara Murvin and seconded by Commissioner Benny Everett, also specified that the North Palm Beach company is required within two weeks to refund to the city $125,000 out of the $150,000 that Technomarine already had been paid in advance to begin the work, because firm representatives said they had spent $25,000 so far on necessary studies and design work, as of the last regular commission meeting March 27.

At that meeting, a nearly identical motion had been made, but it failed 3-2. It was the first time city commissioners had seen specifics on pricing and timelines, although the contract was signed in late January, and reports presented by Technomarine had indicated that much of the renovation work was poised to begin and could be completed before the city’s June 30 deadline. That date was set by the state for encumbering the $1.2 million in grant financing that the Florida Legislature had approved for the project.

Mayor Keith Babb asked City Attorney Gary Brandenburg to bring the commission up to date on his negotiations with Technomarine since the last meeting, since the city’s contract still was in force and he had suggested modifying it.

Mr. Brandenburg explained: “Mr. Mayor, you have before you a lengthy design/build agreement that I drafted along with pricing provided by Technomarine on each of the items that the city was considering with respect to the marina. If you look to the ‘Exhibit A’ in the contract, you’ll see the pricing. As you recall, we had an agreement … where they were to undertake certain tasks on behalf of the city that related to the design and building of a deck to go behind the restaurant and the design of a fishing pier and associated parking.

“It’s my understanding from talking with the manager that the fishing pier is no longer an item, at least that the city manager wants to pursue at this time (he had moved it into a second phase). Subsequently, Technomarine was given an order to suspend their work on the fishing pier, probably two and a half weeks ago now. So the commission needs to decide tonight, one, what is to be done with this fishing pier.”

The attorney said since the pier’s design and construction timetable was 16 to 18 months, it couldn’t be covered under the state grant; work financed by the initial $1.2 million is supposed to be completed by June 30. “So the issue is, at this point, what work to proceed with with Technomarine, and you have it all itemized. Now, Technomarine was to give us their best prices on this work. I’m not familiar with the bidding process they used or how they arrived at these prices. But that’s what’s presented to you for your decision tonight, and I think your city manager is going to make a recommendation on how to proceed.”

Mayor Babb said he thought Mr. Brandenburg was going to ask Technomarine how much further work they could complete using the money they’d been advanced. “In addition to that, we had estimated that the work that we would be requiring would probably cost an additional $20,000, for a total of $170,000 of work, and we wouldn’t proceed any further with Technomarine until that portion of the work was completed.” Mr. Babb wanted to know if the prices listed in the new agreement were “in excess of what we had discussed at our last meeting about trying to at least get the $125,000 covered that we had already advanced.”

Mr. Brandenburg explained, “Well, if you take all of the items that are priced, it’s greatly in excess of that.” According to an internal Technomarine memo he’d provided at the March 27 meeting, on-land renovations alone, not including dock repairs and upgrades, totaled $552,184. “They also gave us a price on all of those items, and also repairing the docks at the marina, which was a large sum, $956,000,” he said.

Mayor Babb asked for City Manager Chandler Williamson’s recommendation. “Mayor and commission, based on our last meeting, my thoughts are the same. I did look at this agreement … and they’re requiring additional deposits on these projects, which we’re not going to expend – that’s not the practice of a municipality at this rate – and a lump sum of $956,798 with 35 percent deposit up front … that’s just not something that we can honor.

“My opinion about Technomarine is that they’re a great company; they probably build great marinas,” he continued. “But for these projects that were on land that were more renovations than construction that have not taken place, that I went back and researched since February, when I was asking them to get to work … my confidence is lost in Technomarine for the on-land renovations, and so this new agreement that’s been presented, I can’t support it … in any fashion for the City of Pahokee. So, my recommendation is, if they say they’ve done $25,000 worth of work, and nothing else has moved forward, then I recommend you cancel this agreement and recoup the $125,000 on the work not done.”

The vote was unanimous in favor of that course. Now, managing the renovation project falls to the city manager, and Mr. Williamson also has a new way to try to expedite it, because the commission also adopted an ordinance Monday night that allows the city to bypass the competitive-bidding process for hiring contractors when grant financing is endangered by time constraints, if the commission approves in a super-majority (4-1) vote and the financier (in this case, the state) also approves.

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