Pines Plaza Utility Extension Project Moves Ahead

OCEAN PINES — A planned extension of Worcester County water and sewer services to Ocean Pines advanced this week with the completion of a financial feasibility study and the awarding of a $415,569 contract for the project to A.P. Croll and Sons, Inc.
The feasibility study was approved back in July, with Jessica Ramsay, enterprise fund controller, sharing the results with the Worcester County Commission this week. Pines Plaza construction costs for the extension are listed at $510,000, while an Ocean Pines equity contribution brings the total project cost up to $1,950,000.
The county will shoulder much of the initial burden for the water and sewer extension with the costs recouped over time as businesses in Pines Plaza buy into the service area. The $510,000 will be borrowed from the general fund and repaid with an “upfront local share (one-time payment) of $5,100 per EDU,” according to Ramsay, based on 100 EDUs. The $1,440,000 equity contribution will be financed through Ocean Pines over 15 years at a 3.25-percent interest rate.
With the study concluded, Ramsay deemed the project “financially feasible,” prompting the commission to move to the next stage where they considered bids from four contractors. The bids were unusual in that the low bidder, A.P. Croll and Sons, Inc, beat the next lowest bid by over $120,000 in what was otherwise a close field.
“I’m very uncomfortable with this,” said Commissioner Jim Bunting.
The gap between A.P.’s $415,569 bid to extend water and sewer and the next closest, Teal Construction, Inc, at $537,000 was abnormal, he continued, and the individual bid spec prices for gravity sewer pipe and water mains, for example, varied a lot between bidders. Commissioner Virgil Shockley had noticed the same thing.
“It was all over the place. If you go through here and separate these bids, pipe that should be costing within the same amount by $1,000 was $6,000, $8,000 all over,” he said.
Public Works Director John Tustin acknowledged the discrepancy and admitted that A.P. might require some extra observation but that they have done good work in the past for other clients.
“In discussions with local clients that have worked with A.P. Croll, they are qualified to complete this work,” Tustin told the commission. “However, they have a history of requesting change orders and must be continually reminded to keep their documentation in order and to monitor their schedule.”
Tustin also pointed out that the engineer’s estimate for the project, which should encompass some 1,600 linear feet of gravity sewer and 2,300 linear feet of eight-inch waterline, came in at $500,000 so that, while A.P.’s bid is low, it’s “still in that ballpark.”
Shockley and Bunting remained wary but did vote with the rest of the commission to unanimously approve acceptance of the bid. Commission President Bud Church gave Tustin a message to pass along to A.P.
“I would suggest that you tell them there was a lot of discussion, a lot of concern and before they push for anything they better make sure they’re right,” said Church.
Commissioner Judy Boggs, who represents Ocean Pines, said she was glad to see the project moving forward. A water and sewer extension to the plaza has been in the pipeline for some time with the expectation that the county’s involvement is necessary to get the ball rolling and that private business will eventually pay for the system once it’s online and that the expansion will also attract new business to the area.
The next stop in the process will be a public hearing on the project scheduled for Nov. 5.