When Erie County requested proposals for a consultant to help oversee the environmental review process for a new Buffalo Bills stadium – one of the very first steps the county must undertake to to move the stadium construction process forward – the county received five responses.
Most came from engineer firms, which typically respond to such government requests. The lowest bidder was C&S Engineers, which submitted a bid for $53,926 to do the work.
But the county instead chose to hire a well-connected local law firm, Phillips Lytle, even though the firm was the highest of all five bidders, with a $266,085 proposal.
Daniel Castle, the county’s commissioner of the Department of Environment and Planning, said that while engineer firms are often used for environmental impact studies, in this case, the county was interested in hiring Phillips Lytle because of its experience with handling real estate transfers and ensuring that the environmental review meets all legal requirements. The county would be required to transfer land to state control as part of the new Bills stadium deal.
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“I think, in this instance, the projection is not out of line with what would be expected of a $1.4 billion project,” Castle said.
The county is required to selected the “lowest responsible bidder” in awarding high-value contracts – with “responsible” being a key word.
A Phillips Lytle executive defended the company’s proposal.
“The figure that was quoted by The Buffalo News reflects total costs for a group of consultants, led by Phillips Lytle, to provide a comprehensive and thorough analysis for the Buffalo Bills Stadium SEQR review process,” said Kimberly Nason, a partner at the law firm. “In addition to Phillips Lytle’s legal fees, that amount includes costs from six different consulting firms with expertise in different aspects of Project review. Based upon the firm’s experience, we have assembled a team that we feel is the most qualified to assist the County in this important process.”
Phillips Lytle, based in Buffalo, and Fisher Associates, which is based in Rochester and handles environmental engineering and land development work, were the two highest-ranked firms by county administrators who reviewed the bids. After talking with both firms, the county rejected Fisher Associates, which submitted a bid for $108,108 and instead selected Phillips Lytle.
When the request for County Legislature support of the Phillips Lytle choice came before the Legislature’s Economic Development Committee, Minority Leader Joseph Lorigo, C-West Seneca, and Legislator Christopher Greene, R-Clarence, raised concerns about the need to hire a law firm to do the required environmental review, which would cost the county $158,000 more than the proposal of the second most qualified bidder.
Castle pointed to the law firm’s expertise in real estate dealings. He also told The News that Phillips Lytle would also organize and handle required public input in the project and can subcontract needed engineering work. The environmental impact assessment is expected to be completed by the end of the year, he said.
Legislator John Mills, R-Orchard Park, where the new stadium will be built, expressed support for the selection of Phillips Lytle.