Pensacola, Florida
Tuesday December 1st 2015


Lowball Logjam

Are There Riches in the River?
By Jeremy Morrison

If something seems too good to be true, maybe it is. Or, maybe theres treasure under the water.

I dont think its a gold mine, but … Vince Whibbs, Jr. explained. We know that theres some cypress, some juniper and theres some pine …

For years, a logjam has grown on the Escambia River, in the north of the county near McDavid. The Escambia County Commission recently contracted Whibbs company to clear the jam and remove derelict vessels from the river. The price was right. Maybe.

I know we got a great deal, said Commissioner Grover Robinson during a February meeting, but I just wanna make sure were gonna be able to get that done.

Betting on the Low Bid

Escambia County received three bids for the logjam job. Whibbs companyFlorida Forest Recyclers, LLCwas the lowest by far.

County staff recommended commissioners go with the low bid. Interim County Administrator George Touart expressed his reservations when the issue landed on the commissioners table.

My concern is, we took three bids and discrepancy in price is unbelievable, so weve asked legal to look at it and they have come back to us and said you can go ahead and award this project, Touart told the commissioners.

Florida Forest Recyclers bid the job at $68,498. Crowder Gulf Joint Venture, Inc., a company based in Theodore, Ala., made a bid of $572,000. DRC Emergency Services, LLC, out of Mobile, bid $792,622.44

Theres obviously a huge discrepancy in bids, Commissioner Steven Barry told the board. My understanding for the reason for that is that this is really going to be some start-up money, some seed money to get the project begun, because once the boats come out of the way, evidently there is quite a bit of tangible value to a considerable amount of that wood that is in the logjam.

Dreaming of Debris Dollars

During a late February town hall in Barrys district, Whibbs explained his intentions. He said his company was better positioned to complete the job and already had the permits in place.

Whibbswho in a former life was a prominent local attorney and one-time candidate for the U.S. House of Representativeslaunched Florida Forest Recyclers with his partners after a stint in prison following his disbarment and convictions on theft, fraud and racketeering charges. The company has been singularly focused.

It was basically formed for the specific purpose of working and removing the logjam, Whibbs explained at Barrys town hall.

When he looks at the Escambia River logjam, Whibbs doesnt see a one-dimensional debris-removal job or a navigational hazard. He sees a potential bounty in the logs, some perhaps left over from logging operations of yore.

We think theres between 1,500 and 2,000 logs in there, Whibbs explained later. Different sizes and stuff, along with woody debris.

Insofar as the bid goes, Whibbs said his competitors werent factoring in the profit potential of the wood.

[The other companies] had no use for the wood itself, he said. Their bids were based on that.

Whibbs is confident his crewthree people will work the sitecan clear the jam within the parameters of the county contract and do it for the price quoted. Theyve got 180 dayswe hope we can do it in less time than thatbut wont begin until the rivers water level drops and Gulf Sturgeon spawning season has ended.

Escambia County officials sound hopeful theyre getting a good deal. They also dont sound completely convinced.

Touart stressed to commissioners that he was very concerned. He said the county will hold their feet to the fire for this money, and that there would be no change-ordersallowing the price to balloon once work startedunless they were made for unforeseen aspects of the jobbut logs underneath the water for a profit aint one of em.

Ive never seen a bid come in this far apart and recommended for award, Touart told the commissioners. Ive never heardand Im not in the businessIve never heard that theres profit underneath the water in this river, but so be it if thats the case.