Members of the State Contracting Standards Board announced Friday that they plan to investigate how one construction company was able to recommend itself for more than $87 million in subcontracts for the renovation of the State Pier in New London.
The board, which is responsible for scrutinizing state business deals and reviewing Connecticut’s procurement laws, said they received several formal complaints in recent weeks regarding Kiewit Corporation, which is serving as both the construction manager and a subcontractor on the state pier project.
The Connecticut Mirror published a story last month that revealed how the Connecticut Port Authority authorized Kiewit, which is headquartered in Nebraska, to oversee the multimillion-dollar project and to simultaneously compete with other companies to build portions of the new pier.
That setup empowered Kiewit to develop the criteria for each subcontract, to judge the various bids that were submitted by its competitors and to make recommendations about which contractor should be hired by the state.
Public records reviewed by the CT Mirror showed that Kiewit recommended itself for five separate subcontracts under the project, including two instances where another construction firm submitted a lower-priced bid to the state.
Those recommendations were then approved by the Port Authority and AECOM, another consultant hired by the state.
Members of the State Contracting Standards Board said those circumstances raised concerns over the fairness of the bidding process and possible conflicts of interest.
Those same concerns were shared by Kevin Blacker, an constant critic of the Port Authority, and Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton — both of whom sent letters to the State Contracting Standards Board.
“There is a lot here, unfortunately, that we need to look into,” Lawrence Fox, the chairman of the State Contracting Standard Board, said during the meeting on Friday.
“I think we need to do an in-depth look at what is going on,” he added.
The board, Fox said, was likely to explore all of the subcontracts that Kiewit was awarded under the state pier project.
He said the contacting board was also likely to look at why the Port Authority gave Kiewit the ability to serve as construction manager and a subcontractor, and whether that decision was legal under Connecticut law.
There is a statute on the books that prohibits construction management firms from bidding on subcontracts for the projects they are overseeing for the state.
Officials at the Port Authority, however, told the CT Mirror that law does not apply to the State Pier project and is relevant only to construction work that is being overseen by the state Department of Administrative Services.
As a result, the Port Authority chose in early 2021 to pay Kiewit to manage the project and allowed the firm to bid on other work for the new pier.
Officials with the CT Port Authority did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment for this story.
But Teresa Shada, spokeswoman for Kiewit, said any review would confirm that the company followed all of the necessary bidding procedures.
“We take our role as construction manager-at-risk on the Connecticut State Pier project very seriously,” Shada said. “From the earliest stages of the process to where we are today, Kiewit Infrastructure Co. has been fully transparent with the Connecticut Port Authority and its construction administrator, AECOM.”
“All of our actions have been in full compliance with the contract and the law, and we strongly believe any reviews will confirm that,” she added. “We stand firmly behind our long-standing reputation of operating with the highest integrity and being a highly-principled, industry-leading contractor.”
Gov. Ned Lamont’s office also did not immediately respond to questions about whether he thought it was appropriate for the State Contracting Standards Board to open such an investigation or whether his administration would support such a probe.
Members of the State Contracting Standards Board said they already have a committee in place that is responsible for scrutinizing the Port Authority, which has had other ethics and contracting problems in the past.
But Fox said the new review was unlikely to start until after the board can hire full-time staff members to fill several new positions, which were funded by the legislature earlier this year.
Fox also floated the possibility of the State Contracting Standards Board teaming up with the state Auditors of Public Accounts as part of the inquiry.
“We are going to get into this in a very big way, because it’s very important,” Fox said.