Selbyville council awards project

Selbyville Town Council members have put the ball back in the court of Underground Utilities, the low bidder for the town’s Routes 17/54 water and sewer infrastructure project.

The company had requested its bid be withdrawn after the sealed bids on the project were opened, realizing belatedly that a mistake had been made in the amount it had bid on the project — just $4.5 million.

It was by far the lowest of the bids offered — and the only one within the town’s proposed budget for the project, based on estimates that are now several years old. But with its request, the company has called into question whether it can actually complete the project for that amount.

Town council members had several options in the wake of the bid withdrawal request, according to engineer Chuck Hauser: (1) withdraw the bid as requested and award the project to the next highest bidder, recognizing that the second-highest bid price would not meet the funding requirements set prior to bidding; (2) reject all bids and begin the bidding process over again, with the related expenses and delays; or (3) accept the bid from Underground Utilities, and allow the company to decide how it wants to handle its mistake.

With a Nov. 27 deadline for a decision on the bids looming, it required extra consideration at the council’s Nov. 6 meeting, causing council members to postpone it temporarily and adjourn into executive session for private discussion. They then reconvened and took a formal vote to award the contract to Underground Utilities.

“They awarded it with the expectation that they’ll do the job within that budget,” Town Administrator Gary Taylor noted after the meeting.

That said, the other possibility is that Underground Utilities will choose to forfeit its $225,000 bid bond to the town, for default on the official bid — most likely if it determines the end cost of the project will far exceed the mistaken bid.

If that is the case, the town will be able to use that money to start the bidding process over again.

Accountant and developer Curtis Mumford, appearing for a rezoning hearing that evening, offered his advice to the council, saying he suspected Underground Utilities’ insurer would refuse to offer a performance bond on the project due to the too-low bid, making it difficult or impossible for the company to accept the contract. He suggested the town “take the bid bond” by accepting the unfeasible bid and restart the bid process with the bond money.

In awarding the contract, council members also recognized that the town could be at a disadvantage in a new bidding session, with construction costs continuing to rise and all other bids in this current round of bidding having exceeded the Underground Utilities bid by millions.

Hauser said the town’s estimate of cost on the water side of the project was still close to current costs but that sewer construction costs had gone up significantly. “The cost estimate was similar at one time,” he said.

With the contract now awarded to Underground Utilities — if not happily on their part — the company now has 10 days to provide the town with its performance bond and signed contract documents. If it fails to do so, the bid bond will be forfeit and council members will have to decide how to proceed on the bidding for the project.

That could still come in the form of a new round of bidding, or the contract could be awarded to the next highest bidder, with the knowledge that the town will have to look for additional funding beyond its original estimate.

For now, the ball is in Underground Utilities’ court.

Mumford property rezoned

Mumford had an extra reason to offer good advice to the council Monday night, having been granted unanimous approval of his rezoning request at the top of the meeting.

The Mumford property, 11.28 acres on the south side of Route 377 at its intersection with the west side of Route 113, had been zoned R-2 residential. But Mumford requested a zoning change to commercial use, noting his existing office and that of his son on portions of the property.

The family’s sheet-metal plant, on the other side of Route 54, remains outside town limits, Mumford noted in response to questions from the council members. He said he had no plans to ask for annexation of that property, though council members said that eventual annexations surrounding the plant property might enable to town to push for annexation on its own.

Back on the issue of the zoning request, Councilman Jay Murray said the request had the support of the town’s Planning and Zoning Committee, though no intended use had yet been suggested by Mumford, other than the existing offices. “I can’t see how it would hurt the town at all. Eventually, it could be advantageous,” Murray said. “It’s good to have commercial activity there.”

There was no opposition to the request, and council members voted unanimously to approve it.

Additional landrequests approved

Council members on Nov. 6 also gave unanimous approval to the preliminary site plan of Don Conaway and Steve Parsons for the 24-acre former Tingle property near Polly Branch Road, which they simultaneously requested be rezoned from R-3 to new R-4 zoning.

The R-3 zoning caps density at 2.2 lots per acre, while R-4 — designed much as Sussex County’s cluster ordinance, to allow flexibility in layout and more open space in subdivisions and planned communities — permits lots to shrink to 10,000 square feet with no related increase in overall density for a project.

Under the preliminary plan, 40 lots are planned for the subdivision — less than the maximum allowed under R-3 zoning. The resulting community will comprise 11 acres of home lots, 11 acres of open space and 2 acres of rights-of-way and ponds.

The wooded property is naturally divided into two sections by 7 acres of wetlands (included in the tally of open space), and Murray said a 50-foot buffer around those wetlands had been offered under the plan. Two separate roadways will be required due to the wetlands’ location.

The project, which backs up to the Victoria Forest community, is still at the early stage of state permitting, with only a wetlands study completed.

The council also tackled the town’s own land issues on Nov. 6, issuing a resolution formally annexing lands where it plans a pump station and setting a public hearing on related zoning map and ordinance amendments. The change legally allows the town access to the property. “We can now fix it legally,” Taylor said.

A unanimously passed resolution also moved forward annexation of some 20 parcels of proposed mixed-use commercial property in the town’s newly created General Commercial district.

The 171-acre Trout Brownhill/Trout Selbyville property is planned to be used for a shopping center, as well as continuing to house four single-family homes on property that will remain residential in use. The public hearing on the property was set for the council’s Dec. 11 meeting, at 7 p.m.

Also on Nov. 6:

• Phillip Owen of Mountaire Inc. detailed plans for another edition of the company’s Thanksgiving for Thousands, in conjunction with the Dagsboro Church of God. Owen said the project is expected to feed 13,000 people overall, with volunteers preparing some 3,000 Thanksgiving meals in its warehouse on Nov. 20, starting at 8 a.m., for those who otherwise wouldn’t have food or a traditional Thanksgiving meal. In addition to the volunteers, local businesses also provide donations to sponsor the event.

• Council members unanimously gave their official approval to Mountaire for the planned “AK” wastewater treatment system it has been working on developing for more than a year, clearing it for permitting. Smith said all the town’s questions on the project had been answered to its satisfaction.

• Resident Lucille Creel issued her own Thanksgiving proclamation, thanking the council members who “do so much for all of us” and noting particularly their participating in the March is Kids Art Month event.

• Murray noted the arrival of a new police car, which is currently awaiting repainting in Selbyville Police Department colors.

• From the water department, Councilman Richard Duncan reported repairs made to leaks at Well B, as well as hydrant flushings, saying the department was now looking at a portable satellite system for chlorine, with an estimate on its cost anticipated by the next council meeting.

• Duncan, reporting on the recreation department, noted the town is looking for help with creating formal baseball and softball fields, with a new surface to be installed in the near future.

• From the sewer department, Smith reported that an estimate of $47,000 had been given by Sigfield Machine and Supply Company for an update to the sewer plant that should prevent the kind of system back-up that occurred three months ago, where material flowed into the plant building when controls failed on effluent pumps. The new system, he said, would pump backed-up material into the lagoon instead of the building. He asked council members to consider the estimate for possible future action.

• Taylor noted the change of date for the December council meeting, to Dec. 11. Also noted by Taylor was a successful Halloween parade. Meanwhile, work is proceeding on the traditional Christmas parade, set for Dec. 1, at 7 p.m., and organized by the town and the Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce.