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Bridge of Sighs bids rejected by Natchez aldermen

NATCHEZ — Those who were hoping to see a historic bridge reconstruction project starting sooner rather than later might have left the Natchez Board of Aldermen’s meeting Tuesday sighing.

The aldermen received bids for the Bridge of Sighs project, but when even the apparent low bid of $550,474.80 — submitted by R.A. Edgin Construction — far exceeded the engineer’s estimate of $488,185, the board voted to reject the bids.

Bid law would have allowed the aldermen to accept a bid with as much as a 10 percent variance from the engineer’s estimate. A full 10 percent variance would have come to $537,000, Natchez City Engineer David Gardner said.

The Bridge of Sighs will replicate a now-gone pedestrian bridge at the top of Silver Street, allowing pedestrians using the Natchez Trails to cross the street without interrupting traffic. The project has received two $100,000 grants, one from the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks and the second from the Federal Highway Administration.

The grants are being administered by the Mississippi Department of Transportation, and Gardner said the city will need MDOT’s concurrence before the bids can officially be rejected and readvertised.

“I have all of the reason in the world to believe we should get more competitive bids on the next go-around,” he said.

When Alderman Dan Dillard asked if the price for the bridge could be reduced through engineering, Gardner said the bids would first have to be rejected before he could go through the process of value engineering the project.

The board also voted 5-1 to re-engage the Gillon Group as the city’s auditors for the coming year.

Gillon Group auditors recently gave the city an audit pointing out serious material concerns and included directions on how to address those concerns.

“They have done a reasonably good job, I think, uncovering things we have done right and wrong, and made solvable situations as part of their audit,” Mayor Butch Brown said. “In other words, they don’t just tell us what we did wrong, but how to correct it.”

Alderman Dan Dillard voted against the motion, voicing concerns about the long relationship the auditors have had with the city, though he stated he believes the Gillon Group has done “a yeoman’s job” this year.

“I am concerned that having the same auditor for more than 10 years is not in the best interest of the city,” he said. “I would much more look forward to us putting out requests for proposals and rotating out the auditors on a four-year basis not in sync with the aldermen’s terms.”

Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis voted for the motion but echoed Dillard’s concerns.

“I think it behooves us not to stay with the same auditor year in and year out,” she said. “It has no reflection to do with this auditor or the company, it is just something you need a new set of eyes for.”

During the meeting, the mayor also announced the city will be hosting a forum from 5 to 7 p.m. Nov. 14 at the City Auditorium to discuss the Affordable Care Act. Brown said federal and state health representatives will be there, as well as representatives from the medical and insurance communities.

Navigators, workers tasked with helping residents sign up for a health care plan under the Act, will likely be present at the meeting, Brown said.

“It will be an open education meeting, there won’t be any shouting and hollering, there won’t be any pros and cons, it is strictly to dispel rumors from fact,” he said.

“Hopefully this will bring an end to hype and hyperbole, and will bring to an end fact from fiction.”