Advanced Excavating Specialists, a contractor operating out of Longview for a decade, is moving its operations to Kelso due to the “politics” of the Longview City Council, according to the business owner.

AES owner Mike LaFave last week sent a letter to the city resigning from the Stormwater Advisory Committee.

“I have been struggling with my decision to resign from the Committee since the City Council rejected our responsive bid for the Beech Street Culvert replacement project,” LaFave wrote. “The City Council made a strong statement that they do not support a City of Longview Business. This being the case I feel that at this time I can’t support the Politics of a City, we (AES) have supported and respected. AES has purchased property in the City of Kelso, and have started the process of moving our operation.”

“You and your department (the stormwater division) have done a tremendous job implementing your program, and it has been a pleasure and privilege to be a part of this Committee, so I regretfully resign as of today.”

The letter references the City Council’s decision in March to reject all bids to replace a storm drainage box culvert along Beech Street after Councilman Mike Wallin objected to an addendum that disqualified the lowest bidder, C & R Tractor and Landscaping, Inc.

City staff had increased the experience qualifications after the project went out to bid and required bidding contractors to submit documentation showing they met the new criteria. Such addendums happen on most projects, Public Works Director Jeff Cameron told the council during a Feb. 28 meeting.

C & R Tractor did not meet the new requirements, so Cameron recommended rejecting the Kelso contractor’s $2.19 million bid in favor of a $2.3 million bid from AES. The engineer’s estimate for the project was $2.9 million.

In response, Wallin said the city was “moving the goalposts” on the project. As a result, the council voted to reject all five bids and re-advertise the project. Councilwoman MaryAlice Wallis had the only opposing vote and Councilman Ken Botero was absent.

“This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard in my life. You take the recommendations of your own department, and you’re throwing them out the window? That’s embarrassing to me,” LaFave told the council during the meeting.

Wallin told The Daily News Tuesday the letter from AES and its move to Kelso was “a complete surprise to me.”

The council’s decision to throw out the bids, Wallin said, had more to do with concerns over the city’s process of awarding bids, not the contractors themselves: “AES was just as much a victim as other contractors.”

“A decision was made to change requirements for those who would otherwise qualify for the project,” Wallin added. “This isn’t just someone being upset with council. There is a much bigger process here about how projects are publicly bidded and how they’re awarded.”

The city received only one bid after re-advertising the culvert project: a $2.68 million proposal from Nutter Corp. of Vancouver, which was $380,000 higher than the original bid from AES.

LaFave told The Daily News last week that AES did not bid on the project a second time because it takes a lot of time and effort to prepare bids and he didn’t feel it was worth it.

“We didn’t want to put any more time toward it. We were done,” he said.

The council decided to not award any bids and instead return to the project when the bidding climate is more favorable.

AES had been looking at property for a while, LaFave said, but the Longview City Council’s decision “just kind of helped things along.”

He declined to comment further on what the “politics” of the city were, but he confirmed that his company bought property at 13th Street and Hazel Street by Foster Farms in Kelso.

Longview City Manager Kurt Sacha Tuesday said he was “disappointed” about AES’s decision to move to Kelso, but said there could be many different reasons for it.

Having multiple bidders on projects is always in the city’s favor, Sacha said, and “Hopefully, regardless of where AES is located, they will decide to get back into bidding on all projects.”

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