Miami-Dade County

Inspector general dismisses all but one complaint in Miami-Dade sewer repairs dispute

The Miami-Dade County Inspector General on Monday dismissed as baseless all but one of the more than 15 complaints that engineering firm CH2M Hill had filed against competitor AECOM Technical Services in a battle to oversee a $1.6 billion sewer repair contract.

The single apparently minor finding against top bidder AECOM — and the report’s questioning of second-place bidder CH2M’s motives — suggest the county may soon be able to award the stalled contract and speed repairs of leaky sewer pipes and aging pumping stations.

Though AECOM overstated the professional experience of one of its proposed managers, she would still be qualified for the job she would do for the county, Inspector General Mary Cagle’s office found.

AECOM called the much-anticipated report a victory that could clear the way for county government to award the lucrative contract for the federally mandated work.

“It is a scathing indictment on CH2M for making false accusations,” said Miguel De Grandy, an AECOM lobbyist. “I think this lays the entire matter to rest.”

But CH2M maintained that the single adverse finding against AECOM was enough evidence for Miami-Dade to disqualify the company as a bidder — thus handing the contract to CH2M.

“The law is clear on that,” said Al Dotson, a CH2M lobbyist. “When you misrepresent your qualifications to a committee of Miami-Dade County, you are not a responsible proposer and need to be disqualified.”

A separate review of the bid solicitation by Miami-Dade’s internal services department, which handles contracting, is expected to wrap up over the next few days. Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s office would then have to make a recommendation to county commissioners, who would ultimately approve any contract.

Procedural irregularities and CH2M’s complaints against AECOM have bogged down for the better part of a year the county’s attempt to hire a project and construction manager to oversee the sewer upgrades on behalf of the water and sewer department. Miami-Dade agreed to make the improvements as part of an agreement with federal and state environmental regulators known as a consent decree.

The project and construction management contract is estimated to cost the county $91 million over 15 years, according to the IG’s report, which published the potential price tag for the first time.

CH2M contended that AECOM misrepresented its consent-decree experience and the work experience of two of its proposed managers. The IG found that only the allegation against one of them, Rosanne Cardozo, was on point, because while she said she helped negotiate the terms of the consent decree, she really didn’t. (Cardozo said her work was off the books and “confidential” so the county wouldn’t have to pay consulting fees.)

In its conclusion, the IG called for reforming the county’s contracting process. It also struck a hard-edged tone with CH2M, which sent the Office of the Inspector General 24 pieces of correspondence since January (AECOM sent 14, mostly rebuttals).

“The amount and ever changing nature of the allegations caused the OIG to question whether CH2M was really serious about each and every allegation or just trying to build a case through volume,” the report said.

In addition to detailing the allegations, the 43-page report gave a behind-the-scenes glimpse of big-ticket public-works contracting.

When it became clear three years ago that the county water and sewer department would have to negotiate a new consent decree, “a virtual parade of consultants” began offering administrators unsolicited advice, the administrators told the IG.

“Consultants showered WASD officials with literature and handouts, besieged them with meeting requests, and even put on workshops for them,” the report says.

Sometime late last year, the dispute between AECOM and CH2M — two of the biggest firms in the business — had gotten so ugly that AECOM’s chief executive telephoned his CH2M counterpart and left him a message “to see if there was some way to split up the project.”

CH2M called that an attempt to induce collusion. But the IG found no misconduct, saying both sides had approached the county attorney about the possibility of somehow dividing the contract.

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