If Boulder County goes through another contract bidding process before beginning Marshall Fire debris removal, it would result in a “heavy blow” to more than 1,000 households that burned in the fire, the county argued in a response filed with the court Wednesday afternoon.
Rebidding might be required if the court sides with the plaintiff in a lawsuit alleging the county violated open meetings laws and wasn’t transparent in selecting a contractor to head the post-fire debris removal work.
The original complaint was filed Feb. 15 by Demanding Integrity in Government Spending, a nonprofit established in late January by Michael Brown, former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. It demands access to records from a number of closed meetings and executive sessions in which the county discussed debris removal.
The Boulder County Commissioners on Feb. 10 selected DRC Emergency Services to conduct the clean-up work after a bidding process in which 11 companies competed for the contract.
The Board of County Commissioners held a number of executive sessions throughout January and February to discuss topics related to the Marshall Fire, including one specifically about the request for proposals for contractors to coordinate the debris removal program.
An evaluation committee meant to discuss the request for proposals and guide the bidding process for contractors also met a number of times to discuss the contractors who submitted bids.
The complaint alleges that the committee did not follow the rules regarding making its meetings public nor did it provide notice of executive session meetings or record its meetings.
It also alleges that while the board of county commissioners did provide notice of its executive session meetings, it did not adequately describe what was going to occur in the meeting and at one point discussed matters that should have been discussed in public.
“In the instance of the Feb. 9 executive session meeting, we believe they discussed matters that must be discussed in public – i.e. the recommendation of the Committee and the substance of the factors taken into account by the Committee,” Chad Williams, counsel for the plaintiff, wrote in an earlier correspondence with the Camera.
Williams did not respond to request for comment regarding the county’s response on Wednesday. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are required to file a response by March 15.
The county argues it did not violate Colorado’s Open Meetings Law, saying the meetings were properly noticed and that the bid review committee isn’t subject to Colorado’s open meetings laws.
However, Boulder County also notes in the response that if the court deems there is a violation of open meetings requirements, it could “craft a remedy that addresses its concerns without impacting Marshall Fire survivors.” The county suggested the court could reprimand it for not providing enough detail in the notices and instruct it to issue more detailed notices in the future but stop short of enjoining the contract with DRC.
Overall, Boulder County repeatedly comes back to one main point: The impact of a delay on those most affected by the fire.
If the court enters an order that stops the contracting process, then debris removal under the contract would not take place until the legal issues are resolved, the response notes. DRC originally expected to be able to complete the work by July.
A number of people who lost homes or were displaced in the Marshall Fire shared specifics about how a delay in debris removal could directly affect them in the response.
For example, Tim Hughes executed a plan to rebuild his home by the end of 2023. Because Hughes’ family is underinsured, they must combine all of their insurance money to help cover the cost of building.
“We cannot buy much furniture, travel, or even buy many clothes, since we need to put all the money into the house,” Hughes stated in the response. “A delay will result in significant financial and emotional hardship. We do not have the finances to absorb a delay. … If we lose our place in the builder’s queue, it could cost us well over $100K.”
Others who did not lose their home argued that they too would bear the impact of cleanup delays.
“Every time the wind blows, more ash collects at my house,” Nathan Rini, whose home was damaged by the smoke and heat, stated in the county’s response. “Every delay of the cleanup is a delay to our return home.”
Rini added that he only received coverage for a limited amount of additional living expenses through a homeowners’ insurance policy that helps pay for the cost of living for those forced from their home due to fire or other disaster.
Meanwhile, the county is ensuring it’s prepared to move forward with debris removal if rebidding is not required when the lawsuit is resolved.
Now that the Boulder County Commissioners have agreed to uphold the original bid award recommended on Feb. 10 by denying appeals filed by two competing firms, there are three other steps that must happen before the private property debris removal program can proceed.
The county must finalize an intergovernmental agreement between Boulder County, Louisville and Superior. The city and town are expected to consider the agreement early next week. If they approve the agreement, the county commissioners will consider it March 22.
The county also is hoping a judge will deny the plaintiff’s request for a preliminary injunction that seeks a longer pause on the debris removal program’s implementation. A hearing on the motion is set for 11 a.m. March 18.
The contract with DRC could be signed by the commissioners the day they consider the intergovernmental agreement, but only if the court rules in the county’s favor, or if it rules against the county but does not mandate rebidding.