A lawsuit filed last week in Circuit Court alleged the Board of County Commissioners acted unlawfully in contracting for a sand excavation project involving the Honeyville “borrow pit” and Robert and Roberts, Inc.
The 65-page complaint, including exhibits and filed by a team of lawyers representing Taunton Sand, LLC, detailed a list of alleged “unlawful” actions on the part of the county.
The lawsuit requested unspecified damages in excess of $15,000, a jury trial and an injunction to stop the sand excavation and void the contract with Roberts and Roberts.
The county and Roberts and Roberts have 20 days from the April 1 filing to submit responses with the court, according to the court docket.
Taunton Sand argued that the details laid out in the lawsuit, “Specifically affect Taunton Sand to the extent they demonstrate favoritism to a competing business … the result (of) the County subsidizing a for-profit competitor … and (deprives) Taunton Sand of a fair opportunity to compete on a level playing field for business of the County,” the lawsuit introduction detailed.
For starters, the lawsuit contended the borrow pit “sand mining” operation should never have started as it was taking place on land the county is prohibited from using for anything other than affordable housing.
The roughly 200 acres, of which some 92 is used as the borrow pit, was donated to the county in the early 2000s by the St. Joe Company during the Development of Regional Impact (DRI) process that resulted in the permitting of WindMark Beach.
The donation earned St. Joe density bonuses to apply to other land holdings.
A development agreement for the 200 acres in 2007 as well as a 2010 special warranty deed to the county included provisions pertaining to use of the land.
The land’s use, in both documents, was restricted to “affordable housing for extremely-low-income persons, low-income persons, moderate-income person and very-low income persons as such terms are defined (in Florida law).”
Therefore, the lawsuit alleged, the sand extraction operation was on its face prohibited by the documents through which the county took possession of the land.
The lawsuit spent far more pages and exhibits attacking the process by which a contract between the county and Roberts and Roberts for the sand operation was finalized.
In its late 2018 Request for Proposals for the sand operation at the Honeyville borrow pit, the county detailed the scope of services as “excavating and stockpiling” up to 50,000 cubic yards at the Honeyville site.
Taunton Sand, which owns a sand borrow pit not distant from the Honeyville site, argued it did not submit a proposal based on the language of the scope of work in the RFP.
The county received two bids and the BOCC authorized Administrator Michael Hammond to negotiate a final contract with the low bidder, Roberts and Roberts.
The BOCC subsequently approved that contract early this year.
However, the lawsuit noted, the contract language from Roberts was for the “excavation and purchase” of the sand.
The lawsuit argued that while Roberts and Roberts stated in its contract that services to be performed were detailed in the county’s RFP, but the RFP was silent as to the purchase of sand.
The RFP dealt solely with excavation and stockpiling, the lawsuit alleged, and therefore the county circumvented state law on procurement and bidding policies with “arbitrary and capricious actions.”
“The terms of the Honeyville RFP cannot permit the County to advertise and seek proposals for a specified transaction, as described in the RFP documents, and then completely and materially alter the transaction after proposals are opened, to the benefit of a single proposer and to the detriment of all other proposers and prospective proposers,” the lawsuit read in part.
Further, given the circumstances involved, Taunton Sand, under county guidelines, was barred from entering a formal protest to the awarding of the bid.
The lawsuit also asserted the selling of the sand constituted the unlawful sale of public property.
The lawsuit noted the BOCC never determined the sand to be surplus, and thereby eligible for disposition, which would have been difficult given the value of the sand.
Nor did the BOCC make a formal determination that the sale of the sand is “in the best interests of the county.”
The lawsuit further alleged Roberts is purchasing the sand, which has a “reasonable fair market value of $14 per cubic yard” at $11 per cubic yard.
The sum of the county’s actions, the lawsuit alleged, is that the county failed to comply with competitive bidding requirements for “public construction works” which the sand mining operation would constitute.
And did so while demonstrating favoritism to Roberts and Roberts, according to the lawsuit.
“The County used the Honeyville RFP as to secure interested proposers to give the appearance of a competitive process, then materially altered the terms of the Honeyville RFP and negotiated with Roberts for a contract that was never contemplated, authorized, advertised or mentioned in the Honeyville RFP,” the lawsuit reads in part.
The lawsuit also faulted the BOCC for its failure to codify and publish ordinances in compliance with state law by failing to annual publish current codifications of county ordinances.
State law requires such publication, the lawsuit contended, but the county has never published its ordinances, annually or otherwise.