Madison board at odds over Reunion Parkway engineering firm

By NIKKI ROWELL,

The Reunion Parkway saga continues as Madison County voted last week to retain Mississippi Engineering Group (MSEG) to provide design, right of way and construction services for Reunion Parkway from Bozeman Road to Galleria Parkway.

District Five Supervisor Paul Griffin introduced the motion to hire MSEG for the project, which will include the bridge and crossing of I-55.

However, members of the board have conflicting opinions about how this could affect funding for the project. It will need to be determined if hiring a new engineering firm could result in loss of federal funding for Reunion Parkway.

District One Supervisor Trey Baxter said there is a grading process for hiring an engineering firm. After the firms are evaluated and graded, the firm identified as the best must be selected for the project.

According to Baxter, the top engineer identified for this particular project was Neel Schaffer, which Baxter said has been there every step of the way with the project.

“Neel Schaffer assisted us the whole way,” Baxter told the Sun. “With choosing an engineer, you have to go through a process. They grade the firms on size, the type of engineers they employ among other things.”

“They were the number one grading,” Baxter said. “We can’t use federal money in the design process if we don’t use the number one firm.”

However, District Three Supervisor Gerald Steen said that Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) is applying for a federal BUILD grant and hired Neel Schaffer for phase two to do the environmental study for the interchange.

“MDOT is actually filling out the application for that grant,” Steen said. “They have hired Neel Schaffer to help them fill the application out. This BUILD grant money is totally separate from the design and construction of the Reunion interchange.”

Steen said since the two are separate, there is no conflict with the federal funds.

The supervisors may address this issue at the next meeting.

Board attorney Katie Snell declined to comment on the matter.

The discussion at the July 1 meeting quickly turned to Rudy Warnock, the former county engineer.

“Everybody knows Rudy Warnock works for Waggoner,” said District One Supervisor Sheila Jones about why she would not support the motion to hire MSEG. “(Warnock) has been a problem in my life and a problem in Madison County, and I don’t want to go down this road again.”

Jones went on to say that Warnock lost the county money in connection with the Reunion Parkway project.

“This is the second time around and I want to make sure we do it right this time,” she said. “This is the same guy that sued each one of us individually and didn’t give us our road plans that we paid him to do when he left the office.”

District Three Supervisor Gerald Steen said that he agreed that the county does not need Warnock back on this project.

“I do not see that happening if this passes,” Steen said.

“This is not any attempt to bring Warnock back,” said District Five Supervisor Paul Griffin.

MSEG sent a statement to County Administrator Shelton Vance following the meeting to clear things up.

It reads: “Mr. Warnock is neither an employee of Waggoner Engineering or Mississippi Engineering Group, nor will Mr. Warnock be involved in the design or implementation of the project. Waggoner Engineering has entered into a term-specific consulting agreement with Mr. Warnock to perform only specified services for Waggoner Engineering in another state on behalf of certain private sector clients.”

District One Supervisor Trey Baxter stated at the meeting that he disagreed with hiring MSEG because of the work Neel Schaffer has done with the project up to this point.

“Neel Schaffer has been through this project every step of the way,” Baxter said.

The board voted 3-2 to hire MSEG, with Steen, Griffin and District Four Supervisor David Bishop voting yes and Baxter and Jones voting no.

“The main thing is continuing to move this project forward,” Steen said.

Snell will now identify how to move forward with a contract with MSEG, as the current board cannot contract for work stretching from 30 days after the end of term.

Snell suggested breaking it into phases to address this.

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