Bidder protests $150 million Charleston airport construction contract
The second-place bidders on the $150 million expansion of Charleston International Airport are contesting how the contract was awarded, saying an airport board member has ties to the group picked to oversee the project.
Holder Construction Co. of Atlanta and its Charleston-based partners filed a protest Thursday with the Charleston County Aviation Authority.
The document says board member Joey Jefferson’s firm, Palmetto Civil Group of North Charleston, is a member of the team that was awarded the construction contract.
Jefferson declined to comment on Friday.
Holder and its partners want the authority to award the contract to them or solicit new bids, according to their attorney, Boyd B. Nicholson.
The authority unanimously awarded the contract March 22 to Dallas-based Austin Commercial LP and its local partner, Hitt Contracting Inc, The terms must still be negotiated.
The runner-up Holder-led team includes local firms Mashburn Construction Co., CCCS and Cumming.
Aviation Authority Chairman Chip Limehouse said Friday that Jefferson recused himself from any votes and did not participate in the selection of the construction firm.
Jefferson disclosed his relationship with Hitt Contracting to Limehouse and recused himself in a letter dated March 22, the day the contract was awarded. Aviation Authority attorney Arnold Goodstein provided a copy of the letter to The Post and Courier on Friday.
Jefferson, who is still a member of the full airport board, resigned in December from a committee set up to plan the terminal redevelopment, and “his conduct is above reproach,” Goodstein said.
The six-page protest paints a different picture.
The document alleges Jefferson ran afoul of the state ethics law by not divulging a conflict of interest in writing and by participating in votes and closed-door discussions related to the project.
Those conflicts, according to the protest, include Jefferson being involved in the selection of the architectural firm to design the airport’s new look and by attending a Feb. 16 meeting where the discussions included the construction firm selection process and narrowing the list of bidders. That meeting included a closed-door session, according to the protest letter.
“During these meetings, Mr. Jefferson — and by extension the Hitt team — was privy to inside information regarding the selection process that other firms were unable to learn,” the document said. “This provided Hitt with an unfair advantage that materially taints the solicitation.
“By his very presence during the deliberations during the voting of the authority and during executive sessions, Mr. Jefferson was able to influence a governmental decision in which his business ... had an economic interest,” the protest claims.
Limehouse said the protest is premature since the airport has not signed a contract with the Austin-Hitt team, but he said the authority will hold a hearing on it.
He hopes the protest won’t hold up construction. The project includes adding six more gates and consolidating security check-in during the next three or so years.
“If it turns into a legal matter, that could slow us down,” Limehouse said. “We will work through it, though, and at the end of the day have a great airport.”
Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524.