By: Tom Duggan – July 26, 2013
Billerica DPW director Abdul Alkhatib says there are no shenanigans going on with his town’s public bid to purchase fire hydrants. He told the Valley Patriot that the public bids requests by the town were not tailored to favor (a) certain large American company, but a Valley Patriot investigation into the hydrant bid request in Billerica reveals a specification for hydrant purchases that is not present in any other product purchase made by the Town of Billerica.
One of Billerica’s main requirements for the purchase of fire hydrants is that they be assembled and tested in the United Sates. But Billerica does not require that the hydrant components be made in the US, meaning all, or some of the components can be made in China or Korea (and other overseas countries) but as long as they are assembled in the US Billerica will accept that as “American made”.
The Valley Patriot obtained a copy of Billerica’s hydrant bid request, which specifies: “Fire hydrants shall be the manufacturer’s best quality and design. The hydrants shall be assembled and pressure tested in the U.S.A.”
North Andover resident and businessman Scott Lindquist, says his local company (Water Line Supply LLC) is being discriminated against and pushed out of the bid process with that restriction because his hydrants are made and assembled in China while Mueller, an American company which reveals on their website that some of their parts are made in China and shipped to U.S. to be assembled and tested here.
“We make the same hydrant as the Mueller, the components are fully interchangeable and compatible with the Mueller Centurion (one of the most popular hydrants in the industry) but we submitted a bid for much less,” Lindquist says.
“The only difference between Mueller and Water Line Supply (Lindquist’s North Andover Company) is that Mueller assembles some of their China made hydrant components here in the U.S. and Water line supply does not. But you could hardly call the Mueller Centurion “American made” any more than you could say our hydrant is American made. My question is why is this in the specification in the first place when no other product Billerica puts out for bid has this specific requirement.”
“Why only hydrants? Billerica purchases millions of dollars in products from China every year, but suddenly they have this new specification that only their hydrants have to be assembled in the US. It really makes you wonder if they are tailoring their bid to limit competition.”
Lindquist says that when there is no competition in the bidding on public products like hydrants, and companies like his are excluded from the bid process, the big companies get to charge whatever they want, jacking up the price for taxpayers who end up paying millions of dollars more for publicly purchased fire hydrants as well as other water works materials.
Recent local bids on the Mueller Centurion shows that Mueller, offered to sell the very same hydrant to Brockton for $1,611.00 per hydrant but is currently offering to sell the Centurion to Billerica at $1,712.37 per hydrant a difference of $101.02 per hydrant.
More recently the same Mueller hydrant was bid on in Fall River for a quantity of 12 for a price of $1559.00 each while Billerica’s quantity of 85 was bid for $1727.31 each a cost difference of $153.37 per each hydrant.
Lindquist says that the reason Mueller’s price for the Centurion bid in Brockton and Fall River was so much less than their bid in Billerica is because Billerica’s specifications are written as proprietary and sole source. Brockton as well as Fall River have specifications that can be met by more than just Mueller and had a competitive bid without the deceptive “made in the USA” restriction while Billerica restricted their bid leaving Mueller the freedom dictate any price they want.
“When there is competition they (other companies) have to bid lower. Even if they don’t buy my product the mere fact that I am included in the process means companies like Mueller have to lower their price if they want the bid, and by the way in Billerica I am being told I don’t’ meet the specs so Mueller is free to gouge the taxpayers. The people of Billerica should know that if they buy the Centurion on this current call for bids they are paying more for the same product, from the same company that Brockton and many other communities bought their hydrants from. But, Billerica is paying more because small companies like mine are being excluded with this phony ‘made in the U.S.’ restriction.”
The Valley Patriot asked Billerica DPW director Abdul Alkhatib (who himself is not from the US) why the specifications for hydrants included restrictions that they be assembled in the U.S. when his office spends millions of dollars every year on other products made in China without that restriction. His answer… he said he didn’t know.
“I can’t answer that. I mean, did we purchase Chinese products? Yeah, we did. But now that we are purchasing hydrants we are standardizing,” he said.
Was bid tailored to favor Mueller or Darling?
“I didn’t know Mueller was made in China,” Abdul said.
“I am going to have to look into that, that will give me something to do. We haven’t awarded the bids yet. I am talking to my town counsel on the legality on the issue. I am not an attorney and I will let the attorney give me the answer. Either we can do this or we can’t, and if we can’t, we can’t.”
For his part Lindquist says that he believes that if the intent was to give the contract to a company that makes their hydrants here in the United States, the bid would specify that all hydrant components are made and assembled in this country.
“I just want a fair shot at the contract, and save the tax or rate payers tens of thousands of dollars,” Lindquist says.
“We make the exact same product as the Mueller Centurion, we bid it to obtain the business, do it at a cheaper price for the consumer, and all the parts are interchangeable and compatible with the Centurions they already have now. So, I don’t understand why they are saying we don’t meet the specifications and are willing to pay so much more for the same hydrants with the same parts.”
Lindquist further stated seven other municipal open bids over the past six weeks where the Mueller hydrant was bid, was much bid much lower than Billerica.
“I wonder why?” he asked.