Inquiry underway into Bernhard complaint against rival for LSU energy deal

An attorney for the Louisiana State Licensing Board for Contractors says it’s too soon to predict when the agency staff will complete its investigation into a complaint, filed Dec. 28, seeking to disqualify one of the two bidders competing for a lucrative energy services contract at LSU.

Louisiana Energy Partners, a joint venture owned, in part, by businessman Jim Bernhard, filed a complaint last week with the licensing board seeking to disqualify its sole competitor for the contract, Enwave Energy, on the grounds that the Toronto-based company lacks a Louisiana contractor’s license.

The process of investigating complaints filed with the board typically takes from just days to a couple of weeks.

But board attorney Kevin Landreneau says there’s no way to say for sure that the investigation can be completed that quickly and, therefore, no guarantee the issue will be resolved before the next meeting of the LSU Board of Supervisors on Jan. 15.

“It’s not a long process but we do have to do an investigation to try to figure out what is the basis of the complaint and what the issues are,” he says. “It just depends on what documents we need to review and a lot of those are confidential.”

Even if the investigation is completed by next week, the matter will still have to go before the full licensing board for an administrative hearing and that board does not meet until Jan. 21.

LSU did not publicly bid the procurement for the 30-year deal to modernize the aging system that heats and cools the main Baton Rouge campus. Instead, over the advice of its staff and consultants, the board voted last fall to solicit proposals from LEP and Enwave because both have existing relationships with LSU.

As a result, the solicitation documents detailing exactly what LSU is requiring of its bidders was not advertised online and have not been made publicly available.

But those familiar with the situation say the determination as to whether Enwave, which has a long-term contract with the LSU Health Sciences Center in New Orleans, should be disqualified will come down to an interpretation of the requirements in the LSU solicitation documents.

“Part of the investigative process is to determine what it was that LSU was actually requiring,” Landreneau says.

The dispute is just the latest bump in a process that has become highly political and controversial, especially since LSU staff and consultants briefed board members in small group meetings last month that their evaluation of the two proposals found the Enwave deal was significantly better for LSU and would save $60 million over the life of the contract.

Sources familiar with the situation say that whatever the licensing board decides, the LSU board next week may throw out both proposals and rebid the contract in an open and public procurement, as staff and consultants originally suggested.