Cowger Questions County Engineering Policy

SNOW HILL – Questions were raised this week during the County Commissioner meeting over the amount of county work assigned to a particular engineering company when county policy generally calls for bidding work out.

One commissioner said he has been getting phone calls from local engineers asking why some work is not put out to bid.

“There’s been getting to be some pretty upset engineers out here,” said Commissioner Bobby Cowger.

Much of the county’s engineering work is being rolled over to EA Engineering, Cowger said. In these tough times, other companies in the county should be given the chance to bid on county engineering work.

The county is not doing justice to local engineering companies by not bidding out those jobs, Cowger said.

“I don’t think this is the right way to be handling this,” he said.

A few years ago, said Public Works Director John Tustin, the County Commissioners decided to designate EA Engineering as the county’s wastewater engineers.

Commissioner Judy Boggs asked Tustin to comment on the need for continuity in service.
“Continuity is important,” Tustin said.

EA Engineering is handling inspection work at the Mystic Harbor Wastewater Treatment Plant replacement project, which was the subject up for discussion on Tuesday.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is providing the funding, must approve project engineers and has approved EA Engineering, Tudor said.

EA is also the treatment plant project designer, which gives it the ability to adjust the design as necessary given current site conditions, Tustin said.

“Market conditions have changed,” said Commission President Bud Church. “I think it would be prudent of us to, in the next round of bids, to put it out.”

The commissioners also questioned the use of an outside engineering firm, also EA, to take over the duties of the county’s construction technician on the Ocean Pines fire hydrant update project that suffered a home accident that will keep him from work for the next six to eight weeks.

EA Engineering has been in on the Ocean Pines hydrant project since the beginning, Boggs said.
“I know we put everything out to bid we possibly can,” she said.

EA Engineering will charge $5,000 a week to handle the hydrant onsite construction inspection duties, such as pipeline tests, overseeing construction, answering complaints, arranging water connections and handling community involvement issues.

According to Tustin, the construction tech spends three or four hours a day on the project.

“That seems like a heck of a lot of money,” said Commissioner Virgil Shockley, who wondered whether a staff engineer could take over those duties instead.

The county has three engineers on staff – Tustin; John Ross, deputy director of Public Works; and county engineer William Bradshaw.

“The trick is those three engineers are stretched thin,” said county administrator Gerry Mason.
The Ocean Pines service area is paying for the hydrant work, which will cost less than expected.
“We’re looking at substantial savings when this project is finally closed out,” said Tustin.

In both instances, the commissioners voted to approve assigned the work to EA Engineering. Cowger voted against both times.