FARMINGDALE — Town officials this year tried to avoid repeating past controversy about the three-year plowing contract by meeting with contractors before bidding. Objections from a small group of residents, however, has kept the issue as a point of contention at selectmen meetings despite being several storms into the winter.
The Board of Selectmen awarded the $487,500 three-year winter road maintenance contract to Ellis Construction in August, but a contractor who didn’t submit a bid is accusing Chris Ellis’ construction company of not meeting the equipment requirements of the contract.
Ellis said that isn’t true. He spent almost an hour Tuesday morning showing the Kennebec Journal around his worksite, checking off the list of equipment and supplies required by the contract.
He also pointed out that he uses nine vehicles for plowing, which is more than the five required by the contract.
“And I’m not doing what I need to be doing? It leaves me scratching my head,” Ellis said.
Selectmen addressed the first letter from the other contractor, E.C. Barry Construction owner Albert Barry, known as Sonny, at last week’s meeting, saying an initial inspection by the board on Oct. 2 showed Ellis met the requirements, including having enough salt and sand. Barry submitted another letter to the town this week asking selectmen to respond to his previous letter.
Doug Ebert, chairman of the selectmen, said at last week’s meeting that the board still will conduct a final review of Ellis’ equipment, but he didn’t seem to share the same concerns as the roughly half dozen residents in attendance.
“I’ve seen contractors, seen everybody plow, and everybody does it a little differently. It would just be a different group of people saying, ‘He’s not doing this,’” Ebert said.
He didn’t respond to multiple phone calls for comment on Tuesday.
The selectmen said last week they would check on three questions raised by the letter from Barry: whether the calcium chloride tanks have been calibrated properly, whether all drivers have done the required Maine Local Roads training and whether Ellis’ front-end loader meets the contract’s requirement.
The most vocal resident at last week’s meeting, Ted Barry, son of Albert Barry, said the questions should have been checked by the board by the Sept. 30 and Oct. 15 deadlines outlined in the contract.
Steve McGee, owner of McGee Construction, the only other company to bid on the contract, also raised questions at the meeting about whether Ellis met the requirements. He told selectmen that although he knows nothing could be done now, they should enforce whatever is in the contract going forward or change what’s required.
Back in August, on the day before opening the contract bids, Selectman David Sirios said he didn’t think there would be any problems if everyone bid according to the contract.
“Everybody’s on the same page. I think it will be a really fair process,” he said.
When the selectmen opened the two bids on Aug. 7, however, revealing Ellis Construction had submitted the lowest bid, the small opposition group took it as evidence that the contract had been written in the company’s favor. Objections to the contract and Ellis Construction delayed the board’s decision for two weeks.
Ebert said at last week’s meeting he thinks the board should consult the contractors before writing the contract in the future to determine what should be required for equipment and supplies.
“We tried to do this contract so we didn’t run into something like this,” he said. “Apparently we didn’t go deep enough into it. We don’t have any control over that today. Today we have to fix what we have, and we plan on doing that.”
In an effort to better track the performance of the contractors plowing the roads, the board this year unveiled a new commenting form for residents to submit problems with the roads. So far, according to the Town Office, there has been one complaint about condition of a road after a storm.