DRC Emergency Services awarded Marshall fire cleanup contract

Boulder County’s commissioners on Thursday hired DRC Emergency Services to clean up the ruins of the hundreds of homes destroyed in the Marshall fire without revealing how much the months-long project could cost.

The board voted 3-0 to hire DRC, which was one of 11 companies that bid on Boulder County’s wildfire cleanup contract, during a meeting that lasted less than 15 minutes. Debris removal on private properties is expected to begin March 1 and should be completed by July 1.

Late Wednesday, FEMA notified Boulder County that it would cover much of the cleanup costs, according to a Boulder County news release. Colorado’s two senators and U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse requested 100% reimbursement, but the county’s news release did not say how much FEMA had agreed to pay.

Typically, FEMA reimburses a county 75% of the costs while state and local governments pick up the remaining 25% of the bill.

A county public works employee who read a recommendation to hire DRC to the commission did not say what the project would cost in total or how much DRC planned to charge per parcel. No commissioners asked any questions about the finances of a contract that was expected to be worth tens of millions of dollars.

In her briefing to the county commissioners, Darla Arians, a division manager in the county’s Public Works Department, said DRC presented the most competitive price. She said the costs are complex and variable but did not elaborate on what that meant.

Efforts to reach the commissioners and Arians on Thursday afternoon were unsuccessful.

The work will involve hauling away the ash and debris on residents’ properties, including toxic waste such as asbestos, to the appropriate landfills. Several inches of topsoil at most residences will need to be removed because of contamination, and the company will be required to cut down any trees damaged in the fire. The contract also requires DRC to recycle metals and concrete when possible.

The Dec. 30 fire killed two people and destroyed 1,084 homes worth a combined half-billion dollars in Louisville, Superior and parts of unincorporated Boulder County. The county is leading the debris cleanup for all three local governments, and representatives from Louisville and Superior have been involved in selecting the company, according to a request-for-proposal analysis and recommendation letter from Boulder County Purchasing obtained by The Denver Post.

A committee charged with picking the company met multiple times and narrowed the pool to two finalists. The committee ultimately recommended DRC, based on its price and its pledge to complete the job by July 1, barring any major weather events or other circumstances beyond its control, the analysis said.

DRC offered a bid that was most reasonable per parcel, the analysis said. But the analysis did not elaborate on how DRC planned to charge the county for the work.

The analysis, which was read by Arians during the meeting, also said the company’s past work in cleaning up after wildfires weighed heavily into the decision. Multiple companies that bid had no past experience cleaning up after wildfires.

DRC is a subsidiary of SLS of Galveston, Texas, and is one of a handful of companies that travel from disaster to disaster to bid on lucrative government contracts to clean up communities devastated by wildfires, floods, hurricanes and tornadoes. It’s a highly competitive business where the companies hire lawyers, lobbyists and consultants to help them win the contracts — something that has taken place in the wake of the Marshall fire.

Boulder County already had a standby contract with DRC for emergency work after disasters, and the company cleared burned cars and fallen trees from public rights-of-way in the fire’s aftermath.

In the days after the fire, two companies that bid on the work — Ceres Environmental Services and AshBritt — wrote letters to Boulder County Attorney Ben Pearlman to warn him that the county was not following proper procurement procedures and was jeopardizing federal reimbursement for the project, meaning taxpayers would be on the hook for the bill.

Those companies were concerned that Boulder County would use its existing contract with DRC to hire that company for the Marshall fire debris removal program. But they warned the county that doing so would not be in line with FEMA’s procurement process and could cost Boulder County, Louisville and Superior millions in government reimbursements.

But the county sought bids through a request for proposal that was sent to 792 potential bidders, the analysis said.

Competitors have 10 days to protest the contract.

 

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