Bidding for construction of the new Giti Tire plant in Chester County has been stopped until a lawsuit challenging the process has been resolved.
Presiding circuit Judge Brian Gibbons issued an order Dec. 1 enjoining the county from continuing its bidding process under the terms established by its chief procurement officer. A suit brought by Richardson Construction Co. of Columbia claims the company has been unfairly excluded from bidding on one of the county’s largest economic development projects in years.
The judge’s ruling leaves the five approved bids for construction in limbo, along with the question of when work on the plant will begin.
“We’re holding them, but because of the injunction, we can’t open them,” said Chester County Supervisor Carlisle Roddey.
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Richardson Construction argues in court filings that it was unfairly excluded from the process because the county chose to only accept bids from the top five companies according to a points system devised by the procurement office. The company believes that such a “pre-qualification” process violates both state and county policy for handling these kinds of bids.
“Under the state code, pre-qualification can only be done by permission of the state engineer for projects with special considerations, like if the company must be so large, or it has to be done in such a hurry,” said Joseph Richardson, corporate counsel for Richardson Construction. “In the Chester County policy, the word ‘pre-qualification’ isn’t even in there.”
Because Chester County was awarded $36 million from the S.C. Coordinating Council for Economic Development, Richardson argues bidding for the Giti project must follow the state procurement code, but “the elimination of qualified prospective bidders from the bidding process violates both the code and the Chester County policy.”
But Roddey said the bidding process is in line with the county’s procurement policy, which is the appropriate policy for county officials to follow even if state grant money is being used as part of Chester’s incentive package for Giti. He also said Giti’s engineers were involved in the pre-qualification process.
The case could delay the planned start time for construction of the plant. Giti had hoped to break ground on the $560 million facility in Richburg in January. The plant is projected to create 1,700 jobs.
Karlisa Parker, Chester County’s economic development director, hopes the dispute can be resolved quickly to get the bidding back on course.
“I certainly don’t want it to hinder the process,” she said. “I think reasonable parties can sit down and come together on something. ... I’m very hopeful it won’t delay the groundbreaking in January.”
For his part, Richardson also doesn’t want the case to become a problem for Chester County or one of its largest economic investments.
“We don’t want to hold up Giti or the other bidders,” he said. “We’re asking for no monetary damages. We’re just asking for the bidding process to be open to all bidders. They could restart the process next Monday if they chose to.”
Chester County is scheduled to make an appearance before Circuit Judge Lee Alford at the Chester County Courthouse at 9:30 a.m. Friday to argue for lifting the injunction and allowing the bidding process to resume, using the five competitive bids already selected.