By Kevin Hogencamp
The City of Albany’s mysteriously motivated $9 million bus station proposal, which grew in price more than threefold this spring, became more uncertain and complex – if not downright murky – over the past two weeks.
The Georgia Department of Transportation, who city and state officials previously insisted were involved in the project only to correct a flawed environmental report submitted by the city, will now procure project contractors, city and state officials said Tuesday.
Further, the site that then-city commissioners selected in 2001 for the bus station contains Native American artifacts and otherwise may be of historical and cultural significance – a possibility the city ignored in the taxpayer-financed environmental assessment despite citizens’ objections.
The bus transfer facility is being planned in the Sandy Bottom area of downtown north of the Dougherty County Judicial Building, south of Roosevelt Boulevard, and west of Washington Avenue. It would replace the city transit transfer facility on West Oglethorpe Boulevard.
“If/when we get to design, the City has elected to use a contractual vehicle procured by the state for engineering services to assist with advancing the project,” said Crystal Paulk-Buchanan, the DOT’s media projects manager.
City Manager Alfred Lott says the DOT’s responsibility is much broader than that – something that DOT and city transportation planner David Hamilton deny. Indeed, architectural firms were notified in May 7 memorandum from the city that bids the city received for the project earlier this year have been thrown out and the project’s procurement is in the state’s hands.
“We appreciate your interest in the city of Albany and all of the proposals submitted by each firm; however, this above referenced request for proposals has been officially canceled,” buyer Angela Calhoun wrote. “This project will be handled by the Georgia Department of Transportation via use of their certified firms and/or contractors.”
City Central Services Director Steven Collier, whose office is in charge of the city’s purchasing division, says that the procurement change is a result of confusion associated with the project’s botched environmental assessment, which prompted federal officials to suspend its funding for the bus station. At taxpayers’ expense, the state is correcting oversights and mistakes in the original, federal-mandated environmental report.
Last year when the city performed a federally mandated environmental assessment on the property, nearby property owners who oppose the bus station’s move from requested that the city conduct an archaeological survey. The city denied request; but when the city falsified documentation to make its case for a new center to be built downtown, the federal government pulled its “stimulus” funding. But the city and state continue to pursue federal funding for the project, saying that this time they will produce an accurate pre-assessment of the project.
Public records show that federal funding was pulled because the city and state failed to follow the procedures outlined in the applicable environmental regulations and had obtained federal funding based upon an inadequate and flawed environmental assessment. In addition to environmental regulations, the project hasn’t passed National Historic Preservation Act muster, either, as adjacent property includes a structure that was built in 1885.
Meanwhile, the public’s concerns about the bus station project not only were ignored during the approval process, official falsely claimed in the assessment that no public comments were received, records show. Also, state and local transportation officials erroneously claimed that a transportation facility would not be on property severely prone to flooding, public records show.
The bus station project’s motivation is a mystery, as a new bus transfer facility is not contemplated in the community’s extensive transportation improvement plant. As such, Lott refuses requests from the pubic, including a citizen transportation committee chaired by Dr. Charles Gillespie, for an explanation and information regarding irregularities that have occurred during the planning stages for the bus station. But in a prepared statement to the City Commission in January, Lott deflected criticism from the city to the DOT, saying that the state – not the city — is administering the project.
Public records say otherwise, as did Hamilton in a May 7 report on a Feb. 25 public information meeting about the project.
“This project has been conceived, planned, and is being controlled by the City of Albany,” Hamilton said. “GDOT as a state agency is helping the City to move the project ahead for the benefit of the community. GDOT has retained the services of CHA Inc. and their subconsultants to revise the Environmental Assessment document.”
But as Lott said in January, the DOT’s role is larger; indeed, it was DOT that conducted the Feb. 25 public information meeting.