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State audit says $300K in MIRA contracts lack 'a public bidding process'

The Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority trash-to-energy plant in Hartford, Conn. as seen from the Charter Oak Bridge.
Ryan Caron King
Connecticut Public
The Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority trash-to-energy plant in Hartford, Conn., as seen from the Charter Oak Bridge.

A report released by state auditors Thursday said leadership at the Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority entered into two contracts totaling $298,000 without going out to public bid.

The finding comes as MIRA, which handles trash for nearly 50 towns across Connecticut, struggles to maintain a decades-old trash-burning plant on the banks of the Connecticut River in Hartford.

In Thursday’s report, auditors took issue with two purchases tied to aging machinery at the plant that is used to generate power in times of critical grid demand.

Documents from MIRA and state auditors show that the private vendor who operates those generators, North American Energy Services (NAES), solicited bids to acquire a spare jet engine used in power production by picking up the phone, calling three vendors and selecting one, without issuing a request for proposals in writing.

One year later, emails from MIRA show the operator needed a different part and did that again.

“If the state wants to drill down and hammer us, or hammer our operator for soliciting over the phone instead of sending a fax or a PDF by email – which is what should have been done, and in fact, what has been done since, we corrected this with NAES – then the state can do that,” said Peter Egan, director of operations and environmental affairs at MIRA.

Ultimately, MIRA’s board signed off on both purchases. In 2019, it approved $98,000 to purchase the spare jet engine. In 2020, a unanimous vote of MIRA’s board approved $200,000 to buy a turbine used to make power.

In their report, the state Auditors of Public Accounts, an independent government watchdog, said neither of the two purchases approved by the Board was properly bid out, which “may result” in higher procurement costs.

“We believe it should have gone out to competitive bid,” said state auditor John Geragosian. “The vendor, their contractor, didn’t open it up to the world, but rather the three of its contractors that it had a relationship with already.”

“We thought it, probably, would be better to go out to all interested bidders, to make sure you’re getting the best price and service,” Geragosian said.

Egan said that the world of suppliers for jet-powered power generators is very small and that “NAES knows, we know, who this stable of companies are. We’ve done business with them for a decade.”

“It didn’t impact the solicitation,” Egan said. “NAES solicited for and obtained three prices.”

But Egan said Thursday that NAES should have drafted a price request form and sent that in writing to interested vendors.

“The only deviation in this particular case is that they made phone calls instead of sending emails, that’s the difference,” Egan said. “We corrected that.”

Patrick Skahill is a reporter and digital editor at Connecticut Public. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of Connecticut Public Radio's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached at pskahill@ctpublic.org.

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