HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The National Park Service bypassed an open bidding process when it awarded a $4 million construction contract to a Montana company to begin rebuilding a Glacier National Park backcountry chalet that burned in a wildfire last year, officials said Tuesday.
Park service officials justified skipping an open competition for the Sperry Chalet project by saying there was "unusual and compelling urgency" to begin work in July to permanently stabilize the burned chalet's stone walls by autumn.
The park service's Denver Service Center, which helps plan and design large construction projects, solicited proposals from four large Montana companies that it researched. Two of those companies submitted bids, and the park service awarded the contract to Helena-based Dick Anderson Construction.
"In order to meet the project deadlines, DSC knew it would need to use an expedited contracting method," Denver Service Center spokeswoman Sally Mayberry said.
Abraham Xiong, the president of the Atlanta-based Government Contractors Association, said the U.S. government often invokes regulations that allow it to bypass the normal bidding or procurement process, particularly for projects $4 million or less.
"It all depends on what justification they use," Xiong said. "If it's a matter of safety, if it's a matter of national security."
In a park service document signed May 8 and titled, "Justification and Approval For Other Than Full and Open Competition," officials said Sperry Chalet presents a public safety issue.
"Failure to complete the permanent stabilization as soon as possible will result in life safety hazards to the visitors, further damage to the structure and potential loss of historic significance of the existing building, all of which may result in additional monetary damages to the NPS," the document says.
Limiting bidding and using a local company would allow faster mobilization, allow for more time to procure materials and the company would bring knowledge of the resources available, the document says
The Sperry Chalet, built in 1914, is one of two stone lodges in Glacier that remain from the days when visitors arrived on the Great Northern Railway to explore the park by horseback. Last August, a lightning-caused fire damaged the dining hall and destroyed the dormitory, leaving only the stone walls.
Sperry and Granite Chalet are icons of the park, prompting high interest in the National Park Service to rebuild.
The contract is only for the first phase of the project, which is expected to go from July through mid-autumn, when snowfall typically ends construction season. The complete rebuild is expected to take two years, with materials to be hauled up the side of a mountain by mule train or helicopter.
The park service has set aside $12 million for construction, and insurance is expected to kick in $1.2 million next year. The Glacier National Park Conservancy also raised $200,000 for the temporary stabilization of the stone walls.