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Protest by contractor halts seawall construction

BAY ST. LOUIS — A Hancock County builder who filed bid protests that held up construction of the Bay St. Louis seawall says his position is justified because the multimillion-dollar contract should go to a local company.

Roger Caplinger, president of Bay St. Louis-based Innovative Builders Inc., said he entered a low bid of $16.25 million with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build the 6,500-foot-long seawall. Last January, the Corps awarded the contract to Hemphill-Key LLC, a Florence-based company that bid about $17.1 million.

Caplinger then filed a protest with the U.S. Government Accountability Office, which adjudicates disagreements over federal contracts.

The protest, and a second one filed by Caplinger in July, have held up construction of the new seawall, a key component in future hurricane protection for the city.

Federal officials have declined to discuss specifics of the case because a protective order was issued by the GAO. The agency did acknowledge sustaining the first protest filed by Innovative Builders. The second protest is still pending.

Peter Verchinski, a GAO attorney in Washington, said his office has an October deadline to decide the second protest and resolve the case.

Caplinger said one reason his bid was turned down was because the Corps determined his company lacked the past performance experience to handle the seawall job. He said his company has performed a number of government jobs in the past, including work at Stennis Space Center.

Innovative Builders has special expertise in marine construction, he said, including the rebuilding of the Pass Christian Harbor and the current, $17.5-million rebuilding of the Gulfport Harbor.

He said his purpose in filing the protest was not to delay the seawall, but to urge that federal contracts go to local companies.

He said the bulk of his employees are local residents, and Innovative Builders would hire even more locals if it won the seawall contract.

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