LAPORTE — A contract for repairing the historic Franklin Street drawbridge in Michigan City has cleared a hurdle of legal concerns.
The $1.5 million project was held up for several weeks over questions about the legality of a no-bid contract for the work awarded to Marquiss Electric, Inc. of Michigan City.
LaPorte County Auditor Tim Stabosz and LaPorte County Commissioner Joe Haney maintained the project must go out for competitive bidding under state rules governing public works projects costing $150,000 or more.
LaPorte County Attorney Shaw Friedman insisted the no-bid contract was legal under provisions in state law qualifying the project for the contract.
Friedman said the historic bridge above Trail Creek needs emergency repairs to avoid the risk of not coming back down because of worn parts that need replacing.
He said the bridge is also the main entranceway to the lakefront and failure of the bridge to come back down would force a little known and narrow alternative route over the dunes to be used for reaching the shoreline.
LaPorte County Commissioner Sheila Matias said bridge failure would also mean delays in reaching the shoreline during a water or medical-related emergency.
“This is a public safety issue. A life-and-death situation,” Matias said.
Friedman argued Marquiss Electric, the caretakers of the bridge for the past 40 years, can also do the work quicker and at millions of dollars less than another company with no prior experience with the 90-year old span.
The LaPorte County Commissioners on Wednesday approved the contract after another county attorney, Doug Biege, said the no-bid contract should not bring any legal consequences.
The commissioners also decided to accept liability for any violations.
Stabosz, who feared being held liable if he paid the bill for the work, agreed to cut the check. However, Stabosz said he will contest any future public works projects he believes don’t follow the competitive bidding requirements.
He also apologized for any hurt caused by the hold-up.
“I regret any excessive contentiousness around this issue, especially any hurt caused to Marquiss Electric, a truly outstanding and upstanding county citizen,” he said.
LaPorte County Commissioner Rich Mrozinski said he hopes the two-month delay in ordering parts doesn’t stop the project from occurring this winter as originally planned.
He said the parts have to be made since there are no replacements in stock for such an old structure.
Mrozinski said late arriving parts could shut an already narrow window for completing the job before spring when the bridge has to be raised and lowered for sail boats passing underneath.
He said the bridge could fail if used another season before fixed.
“If the bridge breaks, I’m going to make sure everybody in LaPorte County knows why,” he said.