After more than four years of preparation, Stanislaus National Forest officials announced Friday that all bids were too high and the Granite Stewardship Contract will not be awarded.

The Granite Watershed Project, located on the Groveland Ranger District, was signed into law by President Clinton in December 1998. Originally proposed by Congressman John Doolittle, R-Rocklin, it was one of 27 pilot projects nationwide and an example of how to roll many restoration efforts into one plan.

Projects included building an off-highway vehicle preparation area, removing flammable underbrush for fire protection and controlling noxious weeds.

If the bids had gone as planned, the company awarded the Granite Stewardship Contract would have had to subcontract some work. Logs harvested from the site were to help pay for that expense.

However, bidders apparently didn't think the logs they could harvest were worth as much as the Forest Service estimated, so they wanted to be paid more for the work.

"In fact, they didn't seem to think it was worth much at all," said Stanislaus Forest Supervisor Tom Quinn.

Because the bids were so far over the government estimate, "I didn't think it was in the best interest of the American taxpayer" to award the contract, he said.

While Sierra Pacific Industries did not bid on the project, SPI Forester Chris Conrad defended the submitted offers.

"With all the guys that are looking for work, I question that the Forest Service estimates (of the trees' worth) are accurate," he said.

Quinn encouraged interested parties to team up and submit a new, lower-priced bid. He gave them 30 days to make new offers.

If new bids are still too high, Quinn said the Forest Service might break the project down and contract its parts individually.

Chris Trott, director of wood fuel purchasing for Pacific Ultrapower, questioned when the project would ever get done.

Pacific Ultrapower burns small trees and brush to generate electricity, but no one seems to want to harvest the biomass a requirement that held up the Darby Fire salvage sale earlier this month.