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City moves ahead, despite continuing uncertainty of Riley Bros. situation

Poor sewers and crumbling roads are just two of the reasons the City of Morris will rebuild East 2nd Street beginning next spring. The construction work will stretch from Atlantic Avenue to beyond the Regional Fitness Center.

By Tom Larson

Sun Tribune

The City of Morris will move ahead with a $2.4 million street and infrastructure repair project this summer, despite still being in limbo concerning the ability of a local contractor to bid on the job.

The City Council on Tuesday voted to advertise for bids for the East 2nd Street project and set an April 20 bid opening. Bids must be advertised for 30 days.

The council moved ahead despite not knowing if Riley Bros. Construction will be able to bid. Governments can't favor bidders, but over the years Riley Bros. has been the winning bidder on numerous jobs in the Morris area over the years and has consistently bid well under the next-best competing bid.

But Riley Bros. currently is suspended from bidding on government work. Riley Bros. founders Joe Riley and John Riley late last year pled guilty to defrauding the IRA, and the company was forbidden from bidding on any government work until a decision is made by federal and state administrators. Under state law, the company could be prohibited from bidding on government jobs for up to three years.

The Riley Bros. situation is a concern for the city, not only because the company often submitted bids that were well under their competitors' but because other contractors will be aware that Riley Bros. can't bid. City officials fear other bids could come in much higher because of reduced competition.

A decision on the Riley Bros. suspension and potential debarment could come by mid-March.

The city considered delaying the project, and discussed the possibility of rejecting all bids if they are not acceptable.

City Manager Blaine Hill said engineers are not concerned yet about the projected start date of May 17, but that bids couldn't be delayed much longer before the project start would have to be pushed back. That can cause problems because of the short Minnesota construction season.

Council member Jeff Miller said he didn't want to delay the project.

"I hate to see work stretch out into the fall," Miller said. "I think you get a poor-quality job if it gets dragged out."

Hill also said it's possible Riley Bros. could prepare a bid for the project that could be submitted if the company is not debarred from government bidding.

Hill said he also was confident that bidding would be competitive, even if the project were pushed back several weeks, because construction companies appear to be eager to find work in a slow economy.

Hill noted that last year, the city received 13 bids on the Highland Homes project. Typically, the city will receive about four bids on that type of job.

"There may not be a lot of work to do this year," he said.