Construction on the new walking and biking trail that will connect Fort Yargo State Park with near downtown Winder is set to begin soon after the city council awarded a contract Tuesday, Oct. 27, but the vote didn’t come without some controversy.

The council voted 4-3 during a called meeting, with Mayor David Maynard breaking the tie in favor of his recommendation, to award a $1.15 million contract to Peach State Construction of Covington for the work, selecting the company over local firm Bayne Development Group of Winder, whose bid came in roughly $88,000 under Peach State’s bid.

The project will be funded with primarily through the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Program in the amount of up to a little over $1 million. The city will be responsible for a 25.85-percent match, and the construction agreement also comes with a contingency cost of up to $197,992 to cover any “unforeseen circumstances.”

Maynard said at an Oct. 15 council work session the city had received 10 bids for the work and added the contract would be for 180 days with the hope that the trail would be complete next summer.

The mayor and city administrator’s recommendation was met with some pushback Tuesday from representatives of Bayne and council members who questioned why the city was going with an out-of-town company for more money over a local one that has done projects around the city, including the new $2 million Jug Tavern Park renovations and the new $4 million visitors’ center at Fort Yargo.

“We’ve done over $60 million worth of projects throughout the state since 2005, which demonstrates our competence,” Bayne president Brad Horne said during a public-comment portion of the meeting, asking the city to reconsider its recommendation.

City administrator Mandi Cody said the PATH Foundation, which helped the city with securing the grant, set up the scale for evaluating the 10 bids and established minimum criteria for recommending awarding the project. Only three of the 10 companies met all the qualifications, according to the PATH Foundation, Cody said, and Peach State was the lowest bidder of those. The responses for Bayne were marked “not clear” on whether it could set a minimum 50-foot pedestrian bridge and self-perform 51 percent of the work without subcontractors and “not listed” on trail project experience, where a minimum of five previous projects was the threshold. Bayne representatives suggested those qualifications weren’t made clear to them in a bid meeting.

Councilmen Jimmy Terrell and Sonny Morris, who were joined by councilwoman Kobi Kilgore in voting against the recommendation, said the city should go with the local firm for less money.

“We know the quality of work (Bayne has) done,” Terrell said. “When the (bid tabulation sheet) says ‘not clear’ on a qualification, I have a hard time believing that’s a good one to list.”

Council members Chris Akins and Holly Sheats, though, said the council should stick to the bidding process that was laid out.

“I’m all about local,” Sheats said, “but I have to trust this process. If not, what were we doing the bidding for?”

In other business Tuesday, the council unanimously approved First Tryon Advisors over Raymond James as the underwriting and placement agent for the 2012 series water and sewer bonds the city is planning to refinance.

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