ISLAMORADA -- The Village Council last week approved the first amendment to its $91 million contract with the sewer construction firm Reynolds Water Islamorada.
"I am comfortable with the way it is going," said Vice Mayor Ted Blackburn, who was one of three council members to approve the amendment in a divided vote.
Under the contract change, Reynolds will conduct a $94,000 pavement survey on middle and north Plantation Key. However, the decision is likely more important than that number would suggest.
That's because the survey is a prelude to the firm setting its price to fully repave all the village roadways after they are trenched for sewer lines. Under the current contract, Reynolds will merely patch trenched areas once the sewers are installed.
Reynolds estimated the overlay would add $8.1 million to the contract during negotiations over the summer, project manager Wes Self said.
Blackburn was joined by council members Deb Gillis and Dave Purdo in the divided vote. Mayor Ken Philipson and Councilman Mike Forster opposed the contract change, arguing instead that the repaving survey, and ultimately the entire repaving work, should be put out for bid.
"Was this part of the contract?" Forster asked rhetorically at the Jan. 24 meeting.
"No," Philipson replied.
"Then why wouldn't we put it out to bid?" Forster countered.
The village's contract with the Reynolds does include an $8.5 million provisionary allowance for the overlay work. But the repaving wasn't formalized in the contract, officials say, because negotiators couldn't hammer out the details before the Aug. 31 signing deadline the village had to meet in order to receive a $20 million state grant.
In the debate last week, supporters of the contract amendment argued that Reynolds deserved the roadway survey work, as well as the ultimate repaving contract, because a gentlemen's deal was put in place before the official contract signing.
"It's like we're going to go back on our word. I just have a problem with that," said Purdo, who in recent months had been the lone councilman pushing back against a series of no-bid contracts and contract extensions that the council has approved.
Purdo said that during negotiations over the summer he told Reynolds that he'd support their doing the overlay work for $8.5 million.
Blackburn too said it was assumed when the contract was signed that Reynolds would get the work.
"Nothing was ever hidden on this," he said.
Council members briefly discussed the possibility of moving ahead with the contract amendment so Reynolds could get the roadway survey complete, then using that survey as part of a competitive bidding solicitation. But that's not an option, Self told the council shortly before the 3-2 vote.
"This is part of a construction document package for my team to build and no other team to build," he said.
In other action last week, the council instructed Village Manager Ed Koconis to hire a code officer whose sole responsibility will be to enforce the village's vacation rental ordinance. The move comes out of concern that property owners are getting away with openly advertising their unlicensed vacation rentals online.
The village awards up to 331 vacation rental licenses annually at a cost of $1,000, but only 152 homeowners have obtained licenses this year. Those fees should fund enforcement of the licensing law, council members said.
"If we don't then we're not going to have anyone register, and it is going to go hog wild," Forster said of unlicensed rentals.
Also last week, the council unanimously passed the first reading of an ordinance that would allow boat slips to be credited as parking spaces for development purposes. The credits would only apply to slips that restaurants, marinas and other business specifically designate for short-term dockage.
The ordinance is the first measure council members have voted on as part of their push to make permitting and planning reviews more efficient and less burdensome. The council also gave unanimous preliminary approval to an ordinance updating lighting requirements that protect sea turtle beach-nesting sites.
Finally last Thursday, council members deferred, pending more detailed plans, a decision on whether to allow the owners of the former HGTV Dream Home, immediately south of Founders Park, to put a gate on the public Gimpy Gulch Road easement that leads to their property.
Proponents of allowing the gate say the road serves no purpose to the general public in any case, since it dead-ends. Opponents say the village shouldn't let go of a public easement unless they charge for it.