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Planning partnership back in business
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Members of the Fort Stewart Growth Management Partnership said they are finally progressing after a four-month delay in hiring a consulting firm.
In an open meeting Tuesday, Jeff Ricketson, the partnership’s director, asked the four-county committee for a motion to allow him and members of the Liberty County Consolidated Planning Commission to negotiate what could be as much as a $495,000 deal with the consulting firm EDAW. The firm will be hired to consult on the development Liberty, Bryan, Long and Tattnall counties will need if heavy growth at Fort Stewart continues.
“We have gotten the staff of the partnership on board and so we should have EDAW and our staff working on this full time by mid-June, and we’re ready to have a formal kick-off on June 30,” Ricketson said Wednesday. “We expect the project to be completed within the year.”
Originally, in January, the partnership selected the California-based design and planning firm as a runner up to the lowest bidder, IBI, which offered its services for nearly $300,000 less than EDAW.
But when five of the group’s members voiced concerns about not having enough evidence of IBI’s work in its application portfolio, Ricketson said the group decided to rebid the contract. 
“I believe that what happened with the previous bid is that they just felt like there were some problems with the whole bidding process, they felt like they did not have enough information,” he said. “Rather than deal with challenges and complaints by all parties concerned, I think they felt it would be better to just go back, re-advertise and open the bidding process back up.”
After discussing committee members’ concerns behind closed doors in an executive session last month, Ricketson said the FSGMP returned for a formal, public vote.
Members reportedly voted unanimously for the motion and said Tuesday it is time to begin structuring sub-committees to look at potential housing, medical and education needs for the area.
“I am being told that there have been several small units that have already come to Fort Stewart,” Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas said. “And I am told that there are going to be more. Right now, we have very little rooms, very little rentals. In Hinesville, that’s the issue that we are dealing with right now, trying to put people up.”
Amber Levofsky, a growth specialist for the Department of Defense’s Office of Economic Adjustment, said, “OEA is prepared to move quickly and ready to assist you with whatever you need. Our hope would be to have your application processed within the next one to two weeks.”
OEA is offering $375,000 to the partnership for consulting. The rest of the funds will be paid by the LCPC and by in-kind contributions from partners.
Midway Mayor Don Emmons, who voted against the hiring of IBI, said he was pleased with the partnership’s current position.
“We are right where we need to be,” Emmons said after the meeting. “The only fallback that we had was the re-advertising for a consulting firm, that took about 30 days, but now that that is taken care of we are right on track.”
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