By Isaac Bonnell
The Port of Bellingham Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to appeal a decision by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to move to Newport, Ore.
The appeal came on Aug. 27, the last day to submit an appeal, after Port attorney Frank Chmelik brought to light new details about the selection process.
While Bellingham could contest several of the technical scoring factors that affected NOAA’s decision, it is unlikely that an improved technical rating would outweigh the cost difference between the two bids. Bellingham’s best lease offer was $4.07 million and Newport’s lease was much less, at $2.53 million.
According to federal acquisition rules, however, potential properties cannot be in a 100-year floodplain.
Newport sits at the mouth of the Yaquina River and appears to be in a floodplain, which could disqualify them from bidding, Chmelik said.
“There is no evidence in the record that NOAA ever dealt with this issue,” he told commissioners. “With the floodplain issue, they have to reopen the bids or disqualify Newport.”
Either scenario would put Bellingham in a better position to win the bid, Chmelik added.
The Port’s appeal was sent to the Government Accountability Office, which oversees federal contracts and acquisitions. NOAA has 25 working days to address the appeal and produce a detailed report about the floodplain issue. At that time, the Port will have another chance to reassess the appeal.
Port commissioners had initially decided against an appeal last week after assessing the legal costs, estimated at $300,000, and limited chance of success in changing the decision.
Filing this first appeal, however, will only cost the Port approximately $25,000, Chmelik said. Once more information is obtained, the Port will be able to decide whether to invest more money in the appeal.