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Boulder County judge dismisses lawsuit about Marshall Fire debris cleanup contract

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Posted at 2:28 PM, May 31, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-31 16:28:01-04

BOULDER COUNTY, Colo. — A Boulder County judge on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit from a company that lost the bid for the debris removal contract in the wake of the Marshall Fire, which destroyed more than 1,000 homes in unincorporated Boulder County, Superior and Louisville in late December.

The bids were for the county's Private Property Debris Removal (PPDR) program, which invited residents impacted by the 6,026-acre Marshall Fire to opt-in to have their land cleared.

Garry Sanfaçon, recovery manager in Boulder County's Recovery and Resiliency Division, confirmed to Denver7 that the lawsuit was dismissed on Tuesday. More information will become available later Tuesday or Wednesday, he said.

The company that filed the suit on April 11, Florida-based Ceres Environmental Services, Inc., alleged that the winning company, Louisiana-based DRC Emergency Services, LLC, was “an unqualified contractor who has neither the experience, timeline, nor pricing to justify the award," according to the suit. The company claimed Boulder County “secretly” negotiated with DRC to have the company adjust its timeline and pricing, and that DRC misrepresented its work experience on prior post-wildfire cleanups.

Ceres claimed that DRC “orally adjusted” its timeline for completion of the cleanup from 7 ½ months down to four months, to an estimated July 1 completion date, which improved its scoring in the bidding process. It also claimed that DRC misrepresented its involvement in previous cleanup efforts, which also increased its score.

The county said out of a score of 100, DRC finished at 91, ECC Constructors ended with 84, and Ceres finished with the third-highest score of 68. Click here to see a breakdown of the scoring, which takes into account project cost, timeline and past experience with similar projects. Ceres claimed that the alleged issues it identified in the lawsuit boosted DRC’s score by 24 points and that its score would be higher than DRC’s if that had not been the case.

The Boulder County contract signing had already been held up by two appeals, including one from Ceres, but both were dismissed, as was a lawsuit that challenged the manner in which the bid was awarded to DRC.

Ceres said it would drop the lawsuit if the proposals were retallied "in a fair and transparent review."

Boulder County had approved and signed a contract with DRC on March 22. About a week later, a list with the order of street cleanups was released online.

In response to the lawsuit from Ceres, County Attorney Ben Pearlman called it "without merit."

"It’s heartbreaking that a large disaster management firm with no ties to Colorado is attempting to hold up our ability to make progress in Marshall Fire recovery efforts," he continued. "We’ve learned throughout this process that in the highly competitive environment of private disaster management firms, like Ceres, are focused more on money than on the families affected by disasters."

On April 19, the PPDR program began in Boulder County. The following day, Boulder County filed a motion asking the court to dismiss the Ceres lawsuit.

The judge's decision to dismiss the Ceres lawsuit came Tuesday, a little less than a month after the county's motion.

Boulder County and cleanup company officials said they believe each property will take about four days to clean up depending on how much ash there is on each property and the footprint. In total, 30 crews have been assigned to the project. Of those, 15 will work in Superior, nine will work in Louisville and six will work in Boulder County.

The cause of the Marshall Fire remains under investigation. The Boulder County Sheriff's Office said on March 31 that the investigation will likely take several more months.