Agreement reached amid controversy for Washington County, CHIEF to combine efforts on Yale Drive project

Commissioners Baker and Cline criticize process

February 14, 2012|By HEATHER KEELS |

HAGERSTOWN — An agreement divvying responsibility for the extension of Yale Drive turned controversial Tuesday when two Washington County commissioners said the agreement looked like an attempt to avoid putting the project’s design and engineering out to bid.

The agreement, approved 3-2 by the commissioners, would assign responsibility for designing and engineering the $9.3 million road project to the Hagerstown-Washington County Industrial Foundation, or CHIEF, which owns much of the nearby land.

Despite CHIEF’s involvement in the design, constructing the roughly one-mile extension of Yale Drive will be a county project, and the county will put the construction contract out to bid, the agreement says.

CHIEF already has an estimate for the design from one engineering firm, and CHIEF President Gregory I. Snook said he did not know if the organization would request any other quotes before awarding a contract.

“As I see it, we’re avoiding the total bid process, and I don’t think it’s fair to all the companies that could and would appreciate the opportunity to bid on this,” Commissioners President Terry Baker said.

Commissioner Jeffrey A. Cline joined Baker in voting against the agreement, saying it inadvertently avoided public transparency in regard to engineering procurement.

“I can assure you the intention of this agreement is not to do that,” County Public Works Director Joseph Kroboth III said.

Having CHIEF take responsibility for engineering was part of negotiations for CHIEF and Meritus Health to transfer land to the county for the road project and to agree to build one stormwater management pond for the whole region on low-lying land currently owned by Meritus, Kroboth said.

CHIEF will pay for the engineering, while the county will invest up to the amount of CHIEF’s engineering cost into a regional stormwater management pond, the agreement says.

Otherwise, the county would have built smaller stormwater management ponds to serve the new road, Kroboth said.

“We’ve offered this up ... to be able to negotiate a more-efficient, less-costly stormwater management system to the taxpayers and an opportunity to get the right of way that is needed,” Kroboth said. “If you would prefer as a board to pay more for stormwater management and pay more for land, that’s the choice that’s before you.”

Commissioners John F. Barr, Ruth Anne Callaham and William B. McKinley voted to approve the agreement.

Kroboth also noted that if the county were responsible for engineering the project, it would have requested bids only from the five firms it has on retainer for such work. Those five companies were placed on that list through a competitive bid process, he said.

Baker said he thought the county should have negotiated for land transfers and other contributions from CHIEF, Meritus and Hagerstown Community College before agreeing to extend Yale Drive.

“They can’t develop that property without the road, and they can’t afford to build the road,” Baker said.

The engineering estimate obtained by CHIEF puts engineering costs at $308,246.83 to $353,246, depending on the tasks necessary to obtain agency approval.

The agreement approved Tuesday is between the county, CHIEF and Meritus Endowment Development Company Inc. According to the Meritus Health website, the development company is a subsidiary of the Meritus Medical Center Endowment Fund and was formed to develop real estate properties and lease them to medical providers.

The Yale Drive extension will take Yale Drive an additional .92 miles from its intersection with Medical Campus Road to a new back entrance to Hagerstown Community College. The intersection of Yale Drive and Medical Campus Road will become a roundabout, and two other roundabouts will be built for future connections, the agreement says.

Future roads planned for the area include an extension of Professional Court over Antietam Creek to tie the area to Eastern Boulevard.

Yale Drive will run through the 173-acre Mount Aetna Farms property that CHIEF purchased last year to develop as a biotechnology or high-tech business park.

CHIEF will convey to the county about eight acres of land for the road and Meritus will convey to the county about 16 acres for a stormwater management pond and about one acre for the road, Kroboth said.

According to the agreement, the county may compensate Meritus for that land through excise tax credits, in-kind services, stormwater management systems, road construction or any other means mutually agreed upon.

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