Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Columbia County News

County 5 Slams Taxpayers: Rubber Stamps Possible $800,000 Cost Overrun Plus $100,000s More on Bascom Norris Bypass

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Last night's County Commission meeting went as planned. The 5's restrictive public comment rules enacted under the Reign of Terror kept anyone from asking questions before the legendary 5's backroom deals got publically rubber stamped. After the gavel dropped, The 5 awarded road builders, Anderson Columbia, another $466,623 with up to an estimated $500,000 more on the way for dirt.

Colombia County's Bascom Norris Bypass Project (the Big Dig) has been ongoing for years. Like Boston's Big Dig before it, it has been steeped in mystery and cost overruns. Columbia County's bucket system of finance makes it virtually impossible to track not only the finances of this project, but how Columbia County finances much of what it does.

Years ago, The 5 rubber stamped the County Manager's removal of Donald F. Lee Associates invoice approvals from the consent agendas, making it impossible to easily track most of the Big Dig engineering invoices. Donald F. Lee is the engineering firm that was billing for much of the Big Dig work.

Begun in 2001, the Bascom Norris Big Dig has had continually fluctuating cost estimates. By 2008, County Manager Dale Williams publically stated the project would cost about $25,000,000 and would be completed in 2010.

In 2008, for tens of thousands of dollars, the County hired an engineering firm to review issues as they related to CSX.

Anderson Columbia's $50,000 gift:
Recently, while all this was going on, Anderson Columbia gave the County a gift of dirt valued at over $50,000. When the Observer pointed out to The 5 that this appeared to be a conflict, The 5 did what it does best – kept silent.

On July 19, 2012, The 5 thanked the then so called County Engineer, John Colson, for his hard work on the Bascom Norris Project, as it was revealed that Anderson Columbia was the low bidder by $1,821,225. Anderson Columbia's bid was $6,450,598.55.

For the past couple of months there has been talk of lawsuits, consultants not doing their job, bad dirt, roads not lining up, and other things concerning the ongoing Bascom Norris Bypass Big Dig.

The County's Public Works Director, Kevin Kirby, was chosen to negotiate with his ex employer, Anderson Columbia, on behalf of the County. Neither The 5, nor the County Staff, has ever publically mentioned one word about this.

Under the cover of darkness

Last night, The 5 did what it does best, rubber stamp "Staff's Recommendations" without one word. How much was discussed under the cover of darkness out of the Sunshine before the meeting will never be known. This is The 5's MO.

Bascom Norris Issue No. 1: $9,868

The County Staff proposal explained, "The current design meets minimum engineering design standards." The Staff then went on to say, "In order to minimize future issues at this location, additional excavation... is proposed."

The cost was estimated at $40,000 and was cut down to $9,868. If it goes back up The 5 and the Staff will just tap the county's money buckets. Will the public know? Maybe.

Bascom Norris Issue No. 2: $172,258

A problem with a CSX easement: CSX didn't want fill material in their easement. No one explained why The 5 or the Staff or the County's crack engineering team didn't know this. $172,000 approved without question or comment.

Bascom Norris Issue No. 3: $200,000 cost savings – rejected

Anderson Columbia proposed a Value Engineered Change that they claimed would have reduced the fill material and future maintenance costs.

The County Taxpayers pay for maintenance. The Staff recommended rejection and The 5 gave its rubber stamp rejection without one word.

Bascom Norris Issue No. 4: Rain issues, $26,438 – maybe

Anderson Columbia had requested "Recover Compensation" due to rain. The Staff recommended approval even though it didn't know if it applied. The 5 approved it anyway, without question.

Issue 5: $284,297 plus dirt (could be another $500,000)

The Staff explained issue No. 5 this way: To compensate Anderson Columbia, Inc., for "loss of efficiency" (as per DOT standards) and to compensate for the cost of embankment and transport of unsuitable materials."

This could be an $800,000 cost overrun. It was rubber stamped by the 5 with only one question about dirt, after the vote.


Working out of the Sunshine and in the shadows is a long held tradition in Florida's good ole' boy of good ole' boy counties.

As the heads on The 5 change, the body always remains the same.

The 5 don’t rat each other out and the legend continues. 


The Columbia County 5 from left to right: Commissioners Ronald Williams; Rusty DePratter; Bucky Nash; Stephen Bailey; Scarlet Frisina

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