City ponders bridge site and police station

Clewiston’s city commissioners are facing two huge decisions that Mayor Mali Gardner believes will affect residents’ and the city’s fortunes for years to come. Both were discussed at its meeting Monday night, Aug. 21, but both ended up being deferred.

One, the selection of a new bridge site at the boat basin, has multiples more moving parts than the other issue of constructing vs. buying a new police headquarters, but both are quite complex.

Because of the first matter, however, a special commission meeting has been called for next Monday at 3:30 p.n., to allow for a few hours of discussion on selection of a new bridge site and planning the long-term future for Clewiston’s much-loved boat basin. Most of the commission meeting was taken up by talk about the lakeside area’s future appearance and amenities, including potential new parkland, boat ramps and parking. Not to mention new, and more, fishing tournaments.

Meanwhile, since late last year, the city has been working on building (or now, possibly, acquiring) a new space for its police department. The second set of bids sought this year, opened almost three weeks ago, to construct the new building at the site of its present station across from City Hall, came in at higher costs than anyone expected. As Ms. Gardner noted, this set ranged from about $1.6 million to roughly $2.4 million, while the city has $1.39 remaining in its state grant allocation for the project.

City Manager Al Perry had thought after the opening that the bids would be rejected out of hand, hinting he might be able to produce a different deal where an existing building would be purchased, but instead staff recommended the commissioners move to hold the bids for 30 days to let the low bidder exclusively negotiate with the city; there were several other bidders as well. City Engineer Tommy Perry and Scott Jones of Johnson-Prewitt & Associates stood to recommend “that you not award the contract tonight, that you hold the bids. That gives the city some options to negotiate with the low bidder and look at other options for the police station.”

Asked by the mayor how long the bids could be held, Tommy Perry answered: “We have a bid bond, which allows us, if the low bidder doesn’t execute a contract, we can collect that bid bond. After 30 days we wouldn’t be able to collect that bond, but we would be able to continue to sign a contract with him if he’s willing, and the low bidder has indicated they’re very interested the job. We believe they would be willing.” He also said, the way the alternates are set up, they’re already included in the base bid (contrary to a previous report in this newspaper, and the commission’s options would be to subtract demolition of the present police station and laying of a new parking lot, the other to not extend a crucial utility line to the new building, thus reducing the contract’s cost by several hundred thousand dollars. If the city decides to buy a different building, neither component would be needed immediately, engineer Perry pointed out.

The bridge issue is complicated by many prominent factors: the sheer number of boaters and tournaments launched and hosted out of the basin; the ongoing work to restore and strengthen the Herbert Hoover Dike; the next-door Roland and Mary Ann Martin’s Marina & Resort – which is the only full-service marina on Lake Okeechobee and thrives on the fishermen’s traffic; and the South Florida Water Management District’s and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ interests and concerns involving the area. If all these moving parts were ducks, the basin would have a duck population problem, too.

The Clewiston News is published every Thursday.

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