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Complaints convince Harpswell board to put plowing contract back out to bid

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Complaints convince Harpswell board to put plowing contract back out to bid

HARPSWELL — Ben Goodall of Goodall Landscaping failed to convince the Board of Selectmen to give him another shot at plowing the town's roads next winter.

"There's too much anger in this town over the things that happened," board Chairwoman Elinor Multer told Goodall last week.

Complaints about unplowed roads in October led the board to put out a request for bids on a three-year winter road maintenance contract, beginning next winter.

The motion passed unanimously during a March 29 meeting, after board members heard from Goodall, a handful of citizens, and Road Commissioner Ron Ponziani.

"Today I've received emails from the School Department," Ponziani said. "They're not happy, I can tell you that."

Before the vote, Goodall made the case that he had been caught unprepared by October snowstorms, and that he had made all of the improvements necessary to ensure good performance next year.

"It was the first time I'd ever plowed snow in October," Goodall said. "It definitely caught us off guard. We did the best that we could. We had other setbacks as well."

Selectman Alison Hawkes said that the low price that won Goodall the contract in the first place shouldn't be the only consideration.

"There was a lot of disappointment in the way the roads were taken care of," she said. "As a low bid, I don't care. What I care about is the quality of the roads and the safety of the people that are driving those roads. ... This is the first year that I've driven the roads and been really mad about the way the roads are taken care of."

The original contract included the option of a three-year extension, but Goodall suggested other alternatives.

"I put out the option to possibly go with a one-year extension, if that was a more favorable option for you folks," he said. "We could put in the contract a requirement that all the equipment be inspected prior to Oct. 15. ... That could help put folks' minds at ease."

But board members said that they couldn't justify going with Goodall again, if there are other possible bidders.

“Why don't we just put this out to bid, and you can bid whatever you think is reasonable," Selectman James Henderson told Goodall. "... If you're going to be competitive, why not just go through that process?"

Henderson said that he would like to see vehicle crash data that supported or belied the contention that the roads had been made less safe under Goodall's watch. He also said that he felt that Goodall might have been the target of complaints based on the fact that Goodall is not a resident of Harpswell, rather than on the quality of his work.

Goodall noted that he had made investments in equipment in the hope that he would be able to provide the service for the three-year extension. In the end, he thanked the board and indicated that he did intend to bid again.

"Winter road maintenance, I wish there was an exact science to it," he said. "We do the best we can, but we can't keep everyone happy, unfortunately."

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or matthh@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @hh_matt.