Local News

Commission deal with complications of Parkway construction

SEBRING - One step forward, one step back. Commissioners decided to negotiate with a firm that could design and build Sebring Parkway Phase III, but they went back into talks with the Yarbrough Family over a segment of Phase II. Although Carl Cool's engineering firm didn't submit the lowest bid, it scored 86.9, which was the highest average by four evaluators, so the former county administrator was recommended for the Phase III job, and the county commissioners agreed. The next step is to write a contract with APAC-Southeast Inc, Envisions Inc., Cool and Cobb Engineering Co. and Tucker Paving that both sides will sign. APAC bid $8.695 million. The second-highest-scored firm was Wright Construction Group and Johnson Engineering Inc. with 83.8. However, its bid was $11.3 million.
The lowest bid was submitted by Excavation Point, Civil Surv Design Group, and Chastain Skillman, which bid $8.156 million, but its average score was 77.3, the lowest of the four bidders. Ranger Construction bid $9.333 million, and was scored 81 points. Cool started as the Highlands County engineer, but was also its longest serving county administrator until he left in 2008. Parkway Phase III would extend from the 90-degree turn north of downtown Sebring to South Florida State College, joining the parkway to Memorial Drive. More importantly, it would be a shortcut from downtown Avon Park to downtown Sebring and keep traffic off U.S. 27. Parkway Phase I horseshoes from Walmart to downtown Sebring. Phase II joins downtown with Highlands Regional Medical Center. The unfinished portion is from Youth Care Lane to the hospital. And that's where Tuesday's plans hit a snag. Over the past eight years, County Engineer Ramon Gavarrete summarized, he's negotiated for right of way with Yarbrough Tire. However, in the past few days, he found out that each party has been using different maps. "He had a sketch, I have a sketch, the one here doesn't match either one of them, so I agree, can we get on the same page?" asked Danny Yarbrough, the tire company's president. "How long will that take? Can can we meet this week? And I don't want to hear any talk about the holidays," Commission Chair Greg Harris asked. "Absolutely," Gavarrete said, and Yarbrough agreed. What's needed, Gavarrete said, is enough right of way for a dedicated turn lane at Youth Care Lane and Sebring Parkway. Without that right of way, there would not be enough room for parents and buses to pick up children at Fred Wild Elementary, and Youth Care Lane would have to be moved, costing $300,000. "The new driveway goes right over the septic tank," said Commissioner Ron Handley. "We all need to get on the same drawing. There's a 30-foot discrepancy, and that makes a huge difference." As to Phase III, it will cost more than originally intended. Where will we come up with the extra money, commissioners asked. "We need able to come up with a menu of options to reduce the price," Gavarrete said. "Are we required to build a multi-use path. No, you can always apply for enhancement dollars, that is one option. Do we have to sod all of the right of ways?" No." Highlands County Sheriff Susan Benton received permission to apply for a $400,000 grant that could set up a new system for responding to the mentally ill. Currently, more than one citizen a day is Baker-Acted, meaning they may be a danger to themselves or others. Therefore, they are transported by a deputy to a facility in Bartow to be evaluated. However, they may have no transportation back. The grant would help Tri-County Human Service and the sheriff's office to track Baker-Acted people, keeping some out of jail. "Eighteen have attempted suicide in our jail, and one was successful," Benton said. Jails have become warehouses for mentally ill, he said. The system is removing public safety officers from the street, said Robert Rihn, executive director of Tri-County. The mental health grant could reduce recidivism, he said. "We hope that's the outcome," Benton said. "If it's anything close to the outcome for (Jail Alternatives to Substance Abuse)... We have a wonderful way to reduce recidivism. Eighty percent don't re-offend in the first or second year." Harris was elected to chair the commission by a 5-0 vote, succeeding Jack Richie. Handley was elected vice chair, succeeding Harris. Gary Ritter, Okeechobee Service Center director, said South Florida Water Management District doesn't want to lower Lake Istokpga. "With no rainfall coming in, don't want to get rid of that water if we don't have to." Engineering Consultant and Project Manager Sean Donahoo has met with the public twice over widening U.S. 98 from U.S. 27 to east of Haywood Taylor Blvd. The public is for the project, but it will cost $40 million, and there is no funding in place, he said. "If the funding were to appear in the next cycle, we're still five years out?" Commissioner Don Elwell asked. Right, Donahoo agreed. Commissioners agreed to strike wording from an ordinance that requires the code enforcement department to answer calls only when there is a complaint. "It's always been on complaints," said Linda Conrad. "We've never required signed documents." Some counties respond to both signed complaints and anonymous calls, she said. Sheriff Susan Benton agreed to meet with Conrad over a new system. "If you force people to give their names, you force them underground. We take them however they come... "We're still going to go check it out." The commissioners voted to meet on the first and third mornings in 2014, eliminating the night meetings on the fourth Tuesdays. Elwell disagreed, wanting to leave that meeting on the calender and cancel it, rather than calling a special meeting when necessary. gpinnell@highlandstoday.com 863-386-5828