Contract flap from ‘05 factors into Charleston’s $200M airport overhaul
The $200 million overhaul of Charleston International has hit a patch of turbulence over the hiring of a company the airport clashed with seven years ago, the latest drama to rattle the project.
The Charleston County Aviation Authority directed its construction manager Thursday to review the selection of Gulf Stream Construction Co. for the first stage of demolition and other site work.
The move could push back the start of the job, but board Chairman Andy Savage said he expects a resolution by next week.
“I’m satisfied it won’t be delayed,” Savage said of the start of the project.
At issue is an old dispute. In 2005 the authority halted work on a parking deck that it hired Gulf Stream to build. The main concern was over the stability of the concrete The Beach Co. subsidiary was using. The shutdown lasted 19 days.
The high-profile flap was settled out of court, but not before some harsh words were exchanged in public.
Authority board member Larry Richter voiced concerns about hiring Gulf Stream in March. He said a committee he is on directed airport staffers last month to look into “whether we deal with people we’ve been adversaries with” in the past. He was told that the “policy is we don’t do business with them anymore.”
“It seems to me a reasonable policy,” Richter said.
Richter said he didn’t learn until Thursday that the airport has no such formal guidelines and that staff had cleared Gulf Stream for the nearly $5 million job without “the courtesy of a phone call.”
He said he felt the committee’s questions and concerns had been “overridden on some administrative whim or some personal agenda.”
Airports Director Sue Stevens said the authority was “made whole” in the parking deck settlement and that Gulf Stream passed a prequalification process to work on the terminal project.
It’s not the only boardroom drama Savage has had to deal with since being elected chairman in January. The Charleston attorney also is investigating allegations that two unidentified members tried to steer terminal work to at least one contractor.
In the Gulf Stream matter, Savage defended the staff’s decisions, though he said he regretted that Richter wasn’t kept in the loop. Stevens and authority attorney Arnold Goodstein “did vet this,” Savage said.
Even so, the authority voted 6-2 directing construction management firm Austin Hitt to review Gulf Stream’s role. Charleston Mayor Joe Riley and Pat Waters cast the dissenting votes.
“I think for us to do anything that would cost the project money and delay it would be wrong,” Riley said.
Austin Hitt isn’t required to replace Gulf Stream, but if it does, the airport could end up paying more. The company’s bid was about $4.7 million, or $400,000 less than the next lowest offer.
Gulf Stream, which marks its 50th anniversary this year, issued a statement Thursday saying it “has the experience and resources to make this site work package a successful project for the Charleston region and are eager to commence construction.”
Reach John McDermott at 937-5572