The United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Rail Study is still in its early stages, but progress is being made.
In a special meeting Friday, the Clay County Commissioners analyzed qualification proposals from four engineering firms wanting to conduct the rail study, which would take place at the Chinook mine site.
In July 2008, the USDA approved the county's application for a Rural Business Enterprise Grant, which was worth $200,000 with a $50,000 match added by the county.
Michael G. Flint, President of Flint Group, Frankfort, Ky., informed the Commissioners they had the option of choosing one of the engineering firms during the meeting, or whittling down the candidates to conduct interviews and make a decision at a later date.
The four provided proposals came from Aecom (Chicago/Philadelphia offices), Clark Dietz (Indianapolis office), The Corradino Group (Indianapolis office) and Hannum, Wagle and Cline Engineering (Terre Haute).
"This is a qualification-based selection only," Flint said. "Selecting a firm would be subject to contract and project scope negotiations."
He elaborated by informing the Commissioners that choosing a firm does not lock them into the choice.
"If you begin negotiations with one company and the rates or scope are not to your liking, you can back out and begin discussions with the second or third choice," Flint said. "Also, the rates shouldn't vary too much between the firms because they are limited to the amount from the grant. The biggest variance may come from the overhead estimates."
After listening to Flint highlight the positives and negatives of the four proposals, the Commissioners dropped Aecom and The Corradino Group from consideration.
"It doesn't make good sense to work with companies so far from home," Commissioner Paul Sinders said. "Also, I didn't like how the Corradino proposal was so focused on its experience in Vigo County."
Flint explained while the scope/focus of the area during the application process in mainly in Clay County, it does extend to Vigo.
While the Commissioners did reduce the number of proposals up for consideration, they were unable to come to a consensus decision on which company to choose to enter negotiations with.
Commissioners' President Charlie Brown said Hannum, Wagle and Cline's (HWC) proposal was very good, but felt the better choice for the county would be to go with Clark Dietz. His biggest concern was HWC using URS as its rail firm.
"URS is a very big corporation and I am concerned about losing our control and input into the project," Brown said. "We've been on the outside looking in since the start of this project and it makes me leary."
Sinders, on the other hand, favored the HWC because of the locality of the company and the associations included in the proposal.
"It is very close between the two companies, but I feel HWC has the stronger project proposal," he said. "URS has done work with CSX, Indiana Rail and Union Pacific and that experience is needed on this project."
Because of the difference in opinions, Commissioner Jack Withers made a motion to conduct interviews with HWC and Clark Dietz. After some hesitation, Brown seconded the motion, and it passed 2-0-1, with Sinders abstaining from the vote.
The Commissioners have set the interviews for 1 p.m., Monday, Feb. 2, which is when they plan to resume the regular monthly meeting. The regular meeting will begin that same day, at 9 a.m., in the Commissioners' Courtroom at the Clay County Courthouse.