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Question of legality spurs review of plant bid process

A question regarding the legality of procuring bids for construction of a new asphalt plant has prompted Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge to request a formal review of the process.
During the Sept. 9 meeting of the county’s Public Works Committee, Commissioner Sam Humphreys said the RFP was written for one company, which made it impossible for others to bid.
“If we’re going to spend $1.4 million, we need more than one bid,” he said.
Highway Superintendent Johnny Deakins said he used the same specs as the current plant and worked with Purchasing Director Willie Shrewsbury to advertise the opportunity.
“Say what you want to, we followed the guidelines,” he said. “There are not a lot of companies that build batch plants.”
When the committee reconvened Sept. 17, Plant Manager Ed Canter addressed the members.
“I have 30 years of experience and (asphalt mix) design certification. I think I’m the best qualified to tell you what you need to know,” said Canter, a regular attendee at many committee meetings.
Canter outlined the condition of the county’s 40-year-old plant and the benefits of construction.
“The tower is an integral part of the plant, and Washington County’s is in bad shape,” he said.
According to Canter, the batching control is the main problem with the plant.
“The advantage of a new burner is the increased use of warm mix asphalt. Ours is not where it needs to be.”
Warm mix asphalt allows the asphalt to be mixed and placed on the road at a lower temperature, which reduces fumes and saves on fuel costs.
Canter also referred to several asphalt plants in the region that had been replaced by Astec Inc., of Chattanooga, the company that submitted a bid to Washington County. Astec is the largest asphalt company in the world and will provide a turn-key job.
Deakins said the project could be bid again, but he would expect the same results. “This is a Tennessee company, and (the plant) will be assembled on the yard to make sure everything fits,” he said. “That may be the reason some of the others didn’t bid.”
Humphreys still wasn’t satisfied.
“The only problem I have is the one bid,” he said. “I talked to five or six other companies, and Johnny told them we’re not building a plant.”
Shrewsbury told committee members Eldridge has asked a representative from County Technical Assistance Service and Interim County Attorney Keith Bowers to go over the bid process to determine if anything is out of order.
At that point, Humphreys left the meeting, saying he already knew what was going to happen so he might as well go.
Chair Mark Ferguson made a motion to move forward with “what we’ve got” regarding the plant, which was seconded by Commissioner Doyle Cloyd.