Charleston airport has 30 days to rule on protest over $150 million project
A three-member panel of Charleston County Aviation Authority heard arguments today from the second-place bidders on the $150 million expansion of Charleston International Airport.
Holder Construction Co. of Atlanta and its Charleston-based partners filed a protest in April with the authority, saying a former airport board member had ties to the group selected to oversee the project.
They claim former board member Joey Jefferson’s firm, Palmetto Civil Group of North Charleston, was a member of the team that was awarded the construction contract.
Jefferson, who resigned from the board April 12, has declined to comment.
Holder and its partners want the authority to award the contract to them or solicit new bids, according to the protest.
The panel that heard the protest at the two-hour hearing said it has 30 calendar days to made a decision. The ruling will be final, the airport said. The panel was made up of Larry Richter, Pat Waters and Spencer Pryor.
The airport authority unanimously awarded the contract March 22 to Dallas-based Austin Commercial LP and its local partner, Hitt Contracting Inc. The airport board signed a contract with the construction team in May.
The runner-up Holder-led team includes local firms Mashburn Construction Co., CCCS and Cumming.
Aviation Authority Chairman Chip Limehouse said after the protest 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. Jefferson resigned in December from a committee set up to plan the terminal redevelopment, according to airport attorney Arnold Goodstein.
The six-page protest 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.
The three-year expansion project includes adding six more gates, a third baggage carousel and a rental car pavilion; consolidating security check-in; relocating administrative offices; and building a dome over the main lobby.
Read more online here and in tomorrow’s editions of The Post and Courier.
Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.