Larry Bankston representing Bernhard group in challenge over LSU deal

The complaint filed Monday by Louisiana Energy Partners challenging competitor Enwave Energy’s eligibility to bid on a lucrative energy services contract at LSU because the Canadian company does not have a Louisiana contractor’s license recalls a similar procurement challenge over licensing issues that temporarily derailed the state’s flood recovery program in 2017.

Nearly four years ago, several losing bidders filed a challenge with the Louisiana State Licensing Board for Contractors against North Carolina-based IEM, which had been awarded the lucrative $250 million contract to administer the state’s Restore Louisiana program to help victims of the 2016 floods.

The challenge argued, successfully, that IEM should be disqualified because it was not a licensed contractor in Louisiana, even though several of the construction companies with which it was partnering on the deal were licensed in the state.

The executive opinion disqualifying IEM was written by the licensing board’s then-attorney Larry Bankston.

Now, Bankston is representing Louisiana Energy Partners, a joint venture owned by Johnson Controls and Baton Rouge businessman Jim Bernhard’s company, Bernhard Energy.

Bankston, who says he is no longer affiliated with the licensing board, filed LAEP’s challenge and says the issue is straightforward.

“Enwave was required to have a contractor’s license to submit a bid to LSU,” Bankston says. “It is absolutely clear that Enwave is without the proper license.”

Enwave and LSU have declined to comment on the situation, and the Board of Supervisors opted not to hold a meeting, tentatively planned for today, at which a vote to award the contract was expected.

Because the LSU board chose not to publicly bid the energy deal, no procurement documents, such as an RFP or RFQ, are posted online and available for public review and LSU has not released them.

Sources familiar with the situation, however, say the documents LSU issued to Enwave and LAEP soliciting their proposals could be interpreted in different ways and that a company that takes over the university’s district energy system—which is, essentially, what the winning bidder will do—does not necessarily need to have a contractor’s license; only the construction companies it hires do.

Bankston disagrees, as does a potentially influential voice, LSU board member Lee Mallett, who also happens to chair the contractor’s licensing board.

Mallet told Daily Report on Monday the issue was “cut and dry” in his opinion, and that Enwave should be disqualified.

It is unclear how long the licensing board’s investigation into the complaint against Enwave will take or when it will issue a decision. Also unclear is what the LSU board will do when it next meets in mid-January.