Rejection of riverbank bids urged

Marietta City Council’s lands, buildings and parks committee members have recommended that city law director Paul Bertram III reject all bids submitted for the lease of a 300-foot section of city-owned riverbank that’s currently occupied by the Muskingum River Boat Docks.

The recommendation was made during a meeting Tuesday by committee chair and Councilman Harley Noland, D-at large, after an executive session called to consider a legal matter related to the property lease.

“We’re requesting all bids on the lease area to be rejected so that it can be re-bid,” Noland said.

He did not explain why the committee wanted to reject the bids, but a document obtained by the Times indicates the current owners of the Muskingum River docks, Dan and Shana Woodford, filed a letter of complaint about the lease bidding process through their legal counsel.

Earlier this year the Woodfords, who have operated the docks since 2009, submitted a bid for a 10-year lease on the property where their facilities are currently located. But J.J. Sands, owner of the Valley Gem Sternwheeler excursion business located immediately upstream from the Woodford docks, apparently outbid the Woodfords for the property.

Marietta safety-service director Jonathan Hupp recommended council award the lease to Sands.

But during a lands, buildings and parks committee meeting earlier this month, Shana Woodford and local resident Kim Williams, who said she uses the docking facilities, contested the proposed lease award.

They alleged Sands had failed to comply with the bid specifications set forth by the city, and had then modified his bid proposal after the bid opening.

In her letter to Bertram, copied to the mayor and city council members, the Woodfords’ attorney, Jennie Ferguson of Columbus, raised those and other issues related to the bidding process the city used for the property lease.

Ferguson said the issues were not raised so that council would award the lease to the Woodfords, but “to identify the legal issues that will arise as a result of the city’s failure to follow the competitive bidding process established under Ohio law.”

On Tuesday Noland requested a special council session be held at 4 p.m. Thursday in the community building at Lookout Park to formally reject both bids on the property.

In other business Tuesday, the committee members agreed funding being sought from an Ohio Department of Natural Resources Nature Works Grant should go for improvements to the tennis courts at Lookout Park.

Last week members of the Marietta Area Community Tennis Association told the committee that the courts are in need of resurfacing as well as sidewalks and a small parking area to make the courts accessible to people with disabilities.

The courts upgrades would cost an estimated $26,000, according to city development director Andy Coleman.

The Marietta Softall Association had also requested grant funding in the amount of $29,400 to improve lighting on the softball fields at Buckeye Park, which are set too low and present a safety issue for players who lose sight of balls that are often hit above the level of the lights.

Softball association president Jim Farley told the committee members Tuesday that the city could be held liable if a player is injured due to the insufficient lighting.

Coleman said the Nature Works Grant has been capped at $31,000 for all of Washington County, and he planned to apply for the majority of that amount for one of the two city projects. He said only one of the requested projects could be funded by the grant.

Committee members noted that Buckeye Park is located in the Norwood area which is a district eligible for Community Development Block Grant funding, while Lookout Park on Harmar Hill would not qualify for the CDBG.

The committee decided the Nature Works Grant money should be used for the tennis courts, but also assured Farley that the city would fund the needed lighting improvements at the Buckeye Park fields.

Also on Tuesday, the lands, buildings and parks committee members agreed to develop legislation awarding Professional Pool Management a two-year contract to operate the Marietta Aquatic Center.

The pool management business, owned by Mike Bishman of Lowell, has operated the aquatic center for the last two years. Bishman’s bid for the contract was $172,331