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5:37 PM Mon, Nov. 12th

New BLM building comes at high price

A new Bureau of Land Management building on Hualapai Mountain Road will cost taxpayers nearly $4 million extra rent.

The current office at 2475 Beverly Ave.

has been leased from Kingman businessmen Roy and Scott Dunton for more than 20 years for $17,180 a month.

SDA of Colorado won the bid for construction of a new facility at a cost to taxpayers of $33,505 per month rent for 20 years.

The doubled lease payment will result in an additional $3.9 million over 20 years.

Wrangling among staff at BLM offices in Kingman, Phoenix and Denver added costs and delayed the project.

Also, an adversarial relationship developed between the Duntons and the BLM as the agency considered whether to build a new Kingman office, remodel the current office on Beverly Avenue or simply extend the lease on the facility.

And, a contracting officer with the BLM business office in Denver has filed a whistleblowing lawsuit against the agency after she questioned BLM officers about the Kingman bidding process.

The process also was questioned by several Kingman real estate agents who worked with clients to identify sites for construction and lease of a BLM facility.

The Kingman City Council was frustrated by the BLM's need to trigger three general plan changes and three zoning changes along Hualapai Mountain Road for one building.

The city is left with new commercial zoning that may or may not have occurred without the BLM requirements, in an area that had been zoned residential.

The new site finally selected is along the south side of Hualapai Mountain Road opposite the Washington Street intersection.

The bid was the highest submitted and the only bid remaining after a second and lower bid by the Duntons was disqualified.

BLM looked at 35 Kingman properties during the market survey but all but two potential builders dropped out of the process.

It began in 1996 because the Beverly Avenue building was deemed too large.

"The lease on this office was extended for five years in 1996 when I came to the Kingman Field Office," BLM Kingman manager John Christensen said.

"This building was too large but we were not high enough on the priority list for new construction at that time."

The BLM needed another lease extension with the Duntons when it became obvious that internal BLM disagreements would delay a new structure past 2001, when the lease extension was up.

The negotiation for the extension caused sill more disagreement and added more taxpayer costs.

John Cunningham, a contracting officer in the BLM Denver Business Office, was the third realty specialist to negotiate an extension acceptable to Kingman and Arizona BLM officials.

"We are the customer and we wanted less than the two year extension," Arizona BLM official Lanna O'Neal said.

O'Neal is Arizona BLM deputy director for business.

She added, "We did what is in our best interest."

What the BLM did was negotiate a 16-month lease extension that guaranteed the Duntons the same amount of money whey would have got for a 24-month lease.

The payment of $29,900 a month would continue six more months if a new building were not completed sooner.

"You will get the same amount of money in 16 months instead of two years," Cunningham told Scott Dunton in a phone conversation that the Miner obtained a transcript of.

"If the project is delayed after … past 16 months…every month after that is another 29.9."

Ed Dettman, then manager of the Denver office, and Gwen Burton, the original Kingman lease negotiator, said Kingman BLM officials always wanted a new building and that Hualapai Mountain Road seemed to be their preferred location.

"… The local office seemed to have, what shall I say, a little bent in terms of they wanted new construction and they didn't want it to be here, didn't want it here, and so on." Dettman said in a recorded telephone conversation with Dunton.

"…I was the guy that finally had to make the decision that we were going to the city limits, period."

Christensen was responsible for limiting the original specifications to the area west of Harrison Street as confirmed by internal BLM memos.

Internal BLM e-mails indicate that Christensen was disciplined by BLM for efforts to assure a new building be constructed on Hualapai Mountain Road.

Three congressional offices.

BLM and the Office of Inspector General have investigated various parts of the bidding process.

The inspector general's office said the lease process was legal, but Burton said she was never contacted and the bid award occurred after the investigation.

Norm Logan took over the project from Burton in what he terms a "new project." Logan was out for medical leave when Cunningham filled in.

Logan is back in Denver completing the project.

Burton has filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint against the BLM for issues related to her removal from the Kingman project because of her concerns about the bidding process legality.

She is on medical leave because of stress.

The Duntons have had several requests for bid review turned down by BLM officials in Denver and Washington.

They have hired a Washington, D.C., law firm to file a lawsuit challenging the process.

The Duntons allege BLM has not given them fair and open notification during the process and wrote the original specifications as to eliminate their current building.

Burton was the first BLM official to term the original solicitation area as illegal.

She contends that BLM officials were prejudiced toward the Duntons after that.