Tuesday, December 31, 2013
The Jackson City Council voted Monday to spend nearly half a million dollars to restart the stalled Highway 80 JATRAN facility project, a vote one council member called "the worst I've ever cast."
That council member was Ward 6's Tony Yarber, and the vote he cast was to spend $480,000 of Jackson taxpayer money to restart construction that was halted through no fault of the city or its citizens.
The facility, which has sat untouched at the corner of Highway 80 and Valley Street since April, is designed to become the new home of the city's bus transportation and will serve as a depot and a hub for drivers and riders.
Many also see the project as a crucial part of the Highway 80 revitalization, which is why the council decided to fund the construction restart with contractor C Perry Builders, a Sumrall, Miss., company it previously considered suing over the same project.
After the city's $743,000 qualifying match, the rest of the $6.8 million project was federally funded with stimulus money, with the main stipulation that the construction funds would buy American products and building materials.
An originally scheduled 20-month construction began in July 2011, and went smoothly until April 2013. Work halted earlier that month when city engineers discovered that the HVAC unit for the entire facility C Perry Builders had installed was a product of Mitsubishi Electric, a Japanese company.
In March, then-Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. said that the city had notified the Federal Transit Authority, the organization overseeing stimulus compliance. In May, the city learned the non-American made parts would have to come out of the building before work could be completed, or the city would have to pay the stimulus money back.
If it couldn't come to an agreement with the contractor, Johnson said the city would "have to explore its legal options."
But that never happened. The project went into limbo as C Perry Builders left the job site, and Johnson fell out of favor with Jackson voters.
But on Monday, the council split 3-2 in favor of bringing back the original contractor to finish the project, and pumped $480,000 into the project to pay for the startup and part of the new HVAC unit.
"That's the worst vote I've ever cast," Yarber, one of the three "yes" votes, said. "When I raised my hand, I raised it in disgust."
Yarber said the HVAC unit was the initial problem, but now that the project is more than a full year behind schedule, the bigger problem is not working toward the completion of a federally funded project.
"We're at a place where we can continue the work," he said. "If we voted not to put the money in and move the project forward, it would further our problems with the FTA, which is already not happy with us, and that could prevent us from leveraging funds from them in the future. So we're moving forward, but the city is taking a big slap in the face."
That vote came after an executive session where Yarber said council members tried to determine who was at fault for the mess.
Joining Yarber in voting to restart the project was Ward 2 Councilman Melvin Priester Jr. and Ward 5 Councilman Charles Tillman. Ward 7 Councilwoman Margaret Barrett-Simon and Ward 4 Councilman De'Keither Stamps voted against the measure.
"Ultimately and going forward, we just have to do a much better job of vetting folks and holding them accountable for the quality of their work, or lack thereof," Yarber said.
C Perry Builders project manager Danny Simon, who is charged with overview of the project, declined to discuss the problems that stalled construction, but said workers would return to the site next week.