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Pinellas County will face lawsuit regarding lucrative waste-to-energy contract

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

The company that ran Pinellas County’s waste-to-energy plant up until the end of last year will be allowed to continue with a lawsuit against the county.

Chief Judge Anthony Rondolino ruled that GCS could move forward with all four of its complaints against Pinellas stemming from losing its contract to another company during a competitive bidding process.

“GCS is very happy with Chief Judge Rondolino’s decision, which permits GCS to move forward on each and every one of its claims against the County, including discrimination in the procurement process, breach of contract, and fraud,” the company wrote in a statement.

The county had filed motions to dismiss the complaints against them.

GCS began operating the plant in 2012 after purchasing the contract from Veolia Environment. The plant struggled to meet goals and maintain enough energy production to keep its contract with Duke Energy going. Because of that, the county agreed to take over operational costs in exchange for GCS terminating its contract at the end of 2014 rather than 2024. GCS would then have to bid on a new contract.

They were ranked dead last in the bid process among four companies. The $477 million contract ultimately was awarded to Covanta.

GCS filed the lawsuit claiming the process was unfair.

“GCS looks forward to presenting judge and jury with evidence demonstrating that GCS was singled out for discriminatory treatment by County staff, which engaged in wholesale misrepresentation of GCS’ contractual relationship in staff’s conversations with the Board of County Commissioners,” the company wrote.

Among its evidence that county staff unfairly represented GCS’s abilities to provide service to the county are a series of bonuses awarded them for meeting or exceeding goals. GCS received a bonus for May-August reaching $125,000.

The county only allowed the top two ranking companies to bid on the contract and GCS claims Covanta’s cost projections are unsustainably low. They also claim the county overestimated the cost of a contract with them by at least $130 million.

“In addition to its damages, GCS intends to continue the fight for a new and fair procurement process, which better serves the citizens of Pinellas County and the many employees of the Pinellas County Waste-to-Energy Facility.”

County Commissioners are not permitted to comment on pending litigation.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email [email protected]

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