Two firms competing for a program and construction-management contract under Miami-Dade County's federally mandated sewer-repairs project are at odds. AECOM Technical Services and CH2M Hill are accusing each other of improprieties during bidding for the $1.6-billion project.

AECOM fired the first shot, asserting that CH2M Hill violated Miami-Dade's ethics rules and standard procurement practices by sending hundreds of pages of proposal documentation directly to county officials prior to a Tier 2 presentation before a committee assembled on Aug. 28, 2013, to rank the two competing firms. That committee ranked CH2M Hill as the top choice to handle the work, according to a Sept. 6, 2013, Miami-Dade Internal Services Dept. memo seeking authorization to begin negotiations with the firm.

However, before those negotiations could begin and before the county's ethics commission concluded that CH2M Hill's actions, while unusual, did not technically violate any rules, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez (R) responded to AECOM's objections by requiring the two firms to present their proposals again to an all-new panel of experts. This time, the "Tier 3" panel—which, CH2M Hill asserts, contained no water-wastewater experts—ranked AECOM as the preferred choice to lead the 15-year-long project.

In a Jan. 22, 2014, letter to Gimenez and other county officials, CH2M Hill lawyer Albert E. Dotson Jr., of Miami firm Bilzin Sumberg, argues that the latest decision may have been the result of the fact that "AECOM grossly exaggerated its experience" when a company official told the Tier 3 panel that AECOM had previously worked on 28 other consent-decree projects prior to bidding for the Miami-Dade sewer-repairs contract.

"In AECOM's Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3 submittals, nowhere does it represent that it had been the prime on 28 consent decrees nationally," Dotson writes. "This was a blatant attempt to mislead the committee into believing that AECOM had twice the consent-decree experience as CH2M Hill, which is utterly false."

As a result, Dotson's letter asserts, AECOM committed a violation of Miami-Dade's rules related to making false statements before a selection committee.

The comprehensive sewer-repairs project is the result of a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency consent decree that mandates that Miami-Dade County make major upgrades to its wastewater treatment plants and collection and transmission systems in order to eliminate sanitary-sewer overflows. According to the EPA, between January 2007 and May 2013, Miami-Dade experienced 211 sanitary-sewer overflows that totaled more than 51 million gallons, including numerous large-volume overflows that resulted from ruptured force mains.

EPA also estimated that, as a result of those overflows, more than 29 million gallons of raw sewage had reached navigable waters in the United States. The consent decree gives Miami-Dade County 15 years to rehabilitate its system.

At press time, the two firms were awaiting an announcement by Gimenez regarding his preference for managing the work, followed by the county board of commissioners' approval or rejection. Neither the mayor nor the commission have indicated a schedule for their respective decisions.

Contacted by ENR, an AECOM representative would state only that the firm was "selected purely by qualifications."