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07-24-06 Time may run out before tower grant can be used

By Tim Cox

  Mercer County officials still are mulling how to proceed with a grant-funded communications tower and admit it is becoming increasingly unlikely the project will come to fruition.

  County officials are facing a Sept. 30 deadline to use the federal grant secured through the county's Homeland Security and Emergency Management office. There may not be enough time to get the tower built by then, so county officials are considering other ways to use the $80,000 in grant money.

  Every passing day decreases the likelihood the tower project will happen, Commissioner Bob Nuding said. Commissioners were originally happy the tower qualified for the grant because the tower is badly needed to improve countywide radio communications. The nearly 200-foot tower would improve "dead spots" in countywide radio communications, emergency officials say.

  Lately, they have expressed frustration with the way the project has unfolded.

  Commissioners earlier this month rejected the two bids received for the tower amid a couple of legal concerns. They might rebid the project, but are unsure if a contractor could meet the September deadline. The county's terrorism task force, which the grant money is funneled through, is to meet Thursday to discuss the project.  Sabre Communications, Sioux City, Iowa, was the low bidder at $72,347. Another company wanted $94,000 to do the tower project.

  Both bids exceeded the engineering estimate by more than 10 percent, legally forcing commissioners to reject the proposals. The bids also exceeded the limit that triggers federal prevailing wage laws, but prevailing wage paperwork was not included in the bid documents because county officials expected the bid prices to fall well below that threshold.

  Commissioners believe the price may have been artificially inflated by contractors who were worried whether they could meet the original Aug. 15 completion date. The contract included a $1,000 penalty for every day the work was not finished after that date.

  Commissioners had suggested rebidding the project without the penalty to see if a lower price can be secured, but that decision will fall to the terrorism task force.

  That group meets Thursday to discuss the fate of the tower project and other possible alternative projects.


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