Jason Cowan
The Union Democrat

Threat of legal action loomed Tuesday after the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors reopened discussion of awarding a contract for hazardous tree removal services in the Butte Fire burn area.

Injunction documents, obtained by The Union Democrat Tuesday via a public records request, claimed Phillips & Jordan Inc. entered an agreement for services with the county on July 18.

The document stated the agreement was finalized after Eric Hedrick, vice president of operations of Phillips & Jordan, and Jeff Crovitz, director of Calaveras County Public Works, signed a contract.

Phillips & Jordan claimed the county breached the agreement last week after supervisors balked in awarding the contract for hazardous tree removal services for the 8,334 damaged trees in the burn scar.

Crovitz said the contract was not set in stone. It had not gone into effect. Outlined in the “Request for Proposal” were stipulations that detailed the agreement would not become official until after county supervisors signed off on it.

Tuesday morning, they did. But the decision to award a $9.8 million contract to Phillips & Jordan was not without criticism. District 2 Supervisor Chris Wright expressed discontent during a passionate monologue minutes before the vote.

“This is an important decision. We need to make sure to make the right one,” said Wright, the only one of the five who voted in opposition to Phillips & Jordan. “We should not award the contract to the company that threatens a lawsuit.”

Phillips & Jordan believed the corporation would be put at an “obvious and significant disadvantage” after details of the winning bid were made available during the public hearing.

It is unclear whether the threat against the county will remain. Hedrick declined to comment Tuesday. Calaveras County Counsel Megan Stedtfeld also declined to comment. David Bournazian, the attorney whose name is cited at the end of the injunction, could not be reached for comment.

The decision to award the contract Tuesday all but ensures the $12 million in federal and state disaster relief funding for tree removal will not disappear in the short term.

Crovitz believes enough progress will be made toward removing damaged trees by the Sept. 20 deadline to justify an extension of the tree removal program to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“If I have a contractor in the field and trees are being removed, there is no reason for FEMA to deny the county to do what it wanted us to do,” Crovitz said.

Rebecca Callen, Calaveras County auditor-controller, said the extension proposal through FEMA will be rigorous. Unlike the previous extension request that went through the state, Callen said FEMA will require a detailed project timeline.

“FEMA will hold us to that project timeline,” Callen said.

Tuesday’s decision concluded a sequence of events that began one week ago. On July 26, supervisors directed staff to restart the selection process to award a hazardous tree removal contractor.

Supervisors took issue to the recommendation by county staff that Phillips & Jordan, a national corporation, was the best company of the four that applied for the job. Affordability and local preference were among board complaints.

Since federal and state funds were allocated to the county for the project however, Crovitz said a contractor had to be selected based on “best value.” He added affordability and local preference could not play a role in who was awarded the contract. The county risked losing the recovery funding if they did.

“If the money is coming from the rest of the United States, we should respect everyone in the United States,” Crovitz said during the meeting.