During the July meeting of the Macon County Board of Commissioners Phillip Cochran with Franklin-based Watson Contractors spoke to the board regarding his discontent with the county's Airport Authority's decision to award an Asheville business, Taylor Murphy Construction, the bid to upgrade the airport's apron.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) awarded a grant to the Macon County airport, that after a 10 percent match from the Macon County Board of Commissioners would total $2,326,340. The board unanimously approved the designated 10 percent grant match of $232,634 during its regular scheduled meeting in January.
The grant was needed because the airport's parking apron has not seen any improvements since the 1970s, according to officials with the Division of Aviation and Milles Gregory, chairman of Macon County’s Airport Authority.
According to Cochran, the airport solicited bids in June for the project and contractors were given the option of bidding on two methods: Either submitting a bid to upgrade the apron using an asphalt option, or submitting a bid using cement. Cochran told the board that Watson Contractors was informed during the pre-bid process that the winning bid would be decided by an engineer based on a cost-analysis report.
Cochran said that Watson Contractors won the bid for the asphalt option and was less than one percent more than Taylor Murphy on the cement option. Despite the close difference between the two companies, the Airport Authority unanimously awarded Taylor Murphy the bid for the airport apron project to be completed using cement.
Cochran, who attended the Airport Authority's meeting where Taylor Murphy was awarded the bid, said the engineer informed the authority that by selecting cement rather than asphalt, he estimated a cost savings of $86,000 over a 30- year period.
“My question is, is one man's opinion that you would save $86,000 over a 30-year period worth the cost of losing all the local jobs that would have resulted if Watson Contractors was awarded the bid,” said Cochran. “Watson, a local company, would have hired local sub-contractors and used truck drivers that buy local gas and all pay local taxes and the money for that project would have stayed here in the county instead of going to Asheville.”
According to Cochran, he believes that the Airport Authority might not have considered the overall well-being of the community when making their decision. “I understand that the board [Airport Authority] is a stand alone entity and was appointed by the commissioners,” said Cochran. “I'm concerned that they are not taking into consideration the thoughts and welfare of the people in Macon County when making their decisions.”
According to Gregory, the authority originally wanted to only consider an all cement option but decided to expand the search to include asphalt to make sure they received the best price for the project. “We had decided that we might need some asphalt but wanted to leave our options open in case concrete was too high,” said Gregory. “But the bid for concrete came in under our budget and because that was the preferred method of the Airport Authority we unanimously voted to award Taylor Murphy the bid.”
According to Gregory, Taylor Murphy's concrete bid was a little more than $1.9 million and Watson Contractor's bid for concrete was about $17,000 more.
“Watson Contractors actually had the advantage since they were local but unfortunately they were higher with the concrete option,” said Gregory.
Gregory explained that the long term savings of using concrete versus asphalt can be found in the longevity of each item. “The area behind Ingles was paved with concrete 25 years ago and looks just as good today as it did the day it was put down,” said Gregory. “With asphalt, you have to constantly patch it and repair it which would continue to cost more over the years.”
During the commissioner's meeting, Commissioner Bobby Kuppers, who is the board’s liaison to the Airport Authority, expressed his disappointment in the project going out of the county.
“The Board of Commissioners prefer that grant money (and the County's match) for projects in Macon County stay in Macon County to the maximum extent possible, within the constraints allowed by General Statutes and ethics,” said Kuppers. “These projects can have a significant positive impact on the local economy and so it is disappointing when those positive impacts go somewhere else.”
Cochran agreed with Kuppers and said that he would have liked to have seen the project benefit all of Macon County. Cochran told commissioners that as a Project Manager for Watson Contractors, he has to send a crew of men 180 miles total to Ashe County each morning at 4 a.m. to work because there is no work in the county for them. “I would feel that the jobs and local revenues it would create by keeping that job on the local level would far outweigh the savings of $86,000 over a 30-year period,” said Cochran. “I would have loved to be able to tell my men that they didn't have to leave their families anymore but instead could start working right down the road.”
Commissioner Ronnie Beale also agreed with Kuppers and said that he, too, was disappointed that the opportunity to create local business and revenues was lost by awarding the bid to a company not operating in Macon County.
Gregory noted that although the Airport Authority awarded Taylor Murphy the contract to complete the project, which is anticipated to take about three months to complete, the final decision is up to the state.