A federal claims court judge has blocked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from moving forward on a nearly $80-million Florida Everglades canal project awarded to contractor Phillips & Jordan Inc. last year and ordered the agency to reevaluate proposals from contractors who sought the job.

The court ruling comes in a lawsuit filed in December by Thalle Construction Co. Inc., Hillsborough, N.C., a unit of big New York City-based contractor Tully Group. The suit alleges that the Corps Jacksonville district failed to evaluate its proposal for the project in accordance with bid solicitation terms for the first phase of the $3.5-billion Central Everglades Planning Project's Everglades Agricultural Area reservoir plan. It is set to complete in 2029.

As ENR previously reported, the Corps announced last September that it had awarded the $79.8-million fixed-price contract to Knoxville, Tenn.-based Phillips & Jordan for the work. 

In a heavily redacted complaint, Thalle claims its bid was lower than that of Phillips & Jordan, but the Corps identified “weaknesses” in it without seeking further clarification. The specifics of Thalle’s bid, including the dollar amount, and apparent issues the Corps had with it, were redacted from the available copies of the court documents.

Judge Thompson Dietz issued the opinion April 12 for the New Orleans-based court, and it was unsealed May 3.

Corps Jacksonville District spokesperson Erica Skolte said in a statement that the Corps "intends to reevaluate specific portions of [Thalle's] and [Phillips & Jordan's] proposals in accordance with the judge’s opinion and the source-selection criteria."

Jake Scott, an attorney representing Thalle, and Robert Symon, representing Phillips & Jordan, declined to comment on the judgment or a possible appeal.

At least two other would-be contractors on the project protested the Corps’ decision, U.S. Government Accountability Office records show.

One protest, filed by J.E. McAmis Inc. of Chico, Calif., raised issues potentially similar to those in Thalle’s complaint. McAmis claimed it had included required details about construction scheduling, but that the Corps said the contractor did not sufficiently explain how it calculated the time frames, despite the company including a list of equipment to be used and the production rates of the equipment, plus a schedule for a six-day work week minus holidays and accounting for potential weather delays.

Still, Corps officials considered the proposal ineligible. GAO denied the McAmis protest. 

The second protest, filed by Kolb Grading LLC of Weldon Spring, Mo., was dismissed because GAO officials said it was filed too late. 

The contract covers construction of about 7.2 miles of reservoir inflow/outflow canals plus a maintenance road in the Everglades Agricultural Area south of Lake Okeechobee. The Corps’ larger plans for the area include the eventual construction of a 240,000-acre-ft reservoir. The projects are aimed at restoring the natural flows of water in the central and southern Everglades by retaining water.

The reservoir will store water that now is lost to the tide, allowing it to be treated, and also providing flood protection, officials say. 

At the time the contract was awarded to Phillips & Jordan, Corps officials said they expected work to start in November 2021 and complete by the end of 2023.

It was not immediately clear how the lawsuit and judgment would impact that timeline.