LGWCD To Seek Bids For New Aquatic Weed Control Contractor

The Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District Board of Supervisors decided Monday to look for a new aquatic weed control contractor after hearing that the district’s current contractor’s performance has been unsatisfactory.

District Administrator Stephen Yohe recommended not renewing the contract with Tree Huggers Landscaping & Nursery, which expires May 20, and putting out a request for proposals.

Tree Huggers was contracted in May 2013 with renewal options for up to five years, but Yohe said that after an evaluation several months ago, the firm’s performance had not improved.

Supervisor John Ryan said board members had spent a lot of time with all the contract bidders last year and tried to clarify what the district expects in response time and vegetation control.

“It’s sometimes frustrating that we don’t get the service that we contracted for,” said Ryan, who asked whether district staff had fulfilled its responsibility to advise the contractor that its work was not satisfactory. “This will be the second or third time where we have had the same experience. We seem to want to go out and bid it again, as opposed to really staying on top of these people and not relying on them to live up to the 95 percent vegetation control and response time expectations that are stated in the contract. When this got started, I was somewhat impressed with the background work they did, and then they just seemed to deteriorate in terms of letting vegetation become a problem and not responding.”

Yohe said that before Christmas, he and staff member Mike Walker had taken the company owner on a tour of all the canals and rated each canal.

“He did not come close to meeting 95 percent coverage in aquatic vegetation removal,” Yohe said. “That was the caution time that we gave him, and told him that it had to improve, and it didn’t improve. I think anybody who has been really observing the canals would agree that they have not done the job according to what we bid.”

Yohe said the issue might be because the contractor bid too low.

“In my opinion, they bid low to get the contract, but it’s not sufficient to do the job that’s in the scope of services,” he said. “They just figure they’ll get the job, do a good job for a while, then get their money.”

Ryan asked whether the district had the ability in its contract to enforce the stipulations if the contractor did not uphold them.

“Otherwise, we’re not learning from problematic experience,” he said. “We’ll get another contractor, and he won’t live up to expectations. We do have this dilemma. When we try to be frank about what we expect, they understand it at the pre-bid meeting, but it’s still whoever’s low and has acceptable references gets the bid. We don’t always go with just the low number, but we make sure that they’ve got credible references that are checked.”

Supervisor Don Widing said it was his understanding that the contractor was supposed to provide a quarterly assessment, and Yohe said Tree Huggers had provided an assessment only for the first quarter.

Supervisor Frank Schiola asked what the amount of the contract was, and Yohe said $24,000.

“I’m out here watching them, and they’re spraying a little bit and they start from a specific point — they’re supposed to start from where they’re at, and they don’t,” Schiola said. “They start farther down the canal and miss sections. It’s definitely not a professional type of service, in my opinion. Their work has been dismal. All you have to do is look at these canals. They’re getting worse, not better.”

Schiola suggested the board consider bringing the job in-house, but Widing thought aquatic vegetation control was beyond the scope of work the district does.

LGWCD Chairman Dave DeMarois asked whether a penalty clause could be included in the contract, and Ryan suggested having a frank discussion with the current contractor about including a penalty clause in a renewed contract.

“I have no particular fondness for this company, but I know we checked their references and they had some good references,” Ryan said. “They’re not an incompetent group; they just seem to let our canals [overgrow]. I don’t know if that’s because we have so many nutrients in the canals that the level of vegetation is way more than what they expect to encounter, but I think it might be worth an attempt to say, ‘Look, we want to consider renewal, but only with a penalty clause that will assure us that you will adhere to the contract requirements.’”

The supervisors briefly discussed a shorter-term contract extension for Tree Huggers with the understanding that they were on notice, but Supervisor Robert Snowball made a motion to advertise for new proposals.

“We had a perfectly good aquatic vegetation service before we decided we wanted to go out and see if we could get a better deal,” Snowball said. “We never had a problem out of those people.”

Snowball pointed out that the previous contractor, Aquagenics, was not the lowest bidder and consequently did not receive the contract.

“The bottom line here is these guys ain’t getting it done,” Snowball said. “If we go in there and tell them we’ll give them another three months or whatever to straighten their act out, it’s a free ticket to keep doing what they’re doing.”

Schiola stressed that it was imperative that they get the aquatic weeds under control.

“Two years ago, when we had our heavy rains, that was one of the things that the South Florida Water Management District had called me up and said that there was a complaint about a high amount of water hyacinth being drained into the C-51 Canal… We need to get this problem under control because what’s going to end up happening is if we can’t, South Florida may come in and tell us we need to get debris catchers at our outfalls.”

Schiola said he was not opposed to debris catchers at the outfalls, but pointed out that during major storms and flooding, they slow down the flow of water. “We need to get control of this,” he said. “I’m all for going out for another contractor.”

Snowball’s motion to seek a request for proposals carried 5-0.