Cotton Fore, Port of Gulfport officials fight over millions, then shake hands

 W. C. Fore walks along the west pier of the State Port at Gulfport in 2009.
TIM ISBELL/SUN HERALD W. C. Fore walks along the west pier of the State Port at Gulfport in 2009.

GULFPORT -- W.C. "Cotton" Fore shook hands with state port officials when they all emerged Thursday morning from a hearing in Circuit Court, where Fore appealed the loss of a $44 million port contract.

Fore's bid was $126,766 lower than the bid submitted by the selected contractor, Necaise Bros. Construction Co.

Judge Larry Bourgeois will decide whether the port followed the law in awarding the contract to Necaise Bros. If Bourgeois rules against the port, a jury will determine what damages Fore is owed. Fore is asking for $8.9 million in lost profits.

Port attorney Brant Pettis of Gulfport told Bourgeois the port was within its rights to deny Fore the contract because he failed to follow bid specifications by including certificates of responsibility, as instructed, for his subcontractors. Pettis also said the electrical subcontractor, C&C Land Services, did not have the required 10 years of experience.

"The port is in a position of overseeing a project that has huge management and logistical issues, Pettis said. " What they concluded was that Fore was not capable of completing the job promptly and efficiently."

Fore's attorney, Sam Kelly of Jackson, argued Fore is eminently qualified, having completed more than 35 projects at the port over more than 43 years. He also said C&C employees have decades of experience, even though the company is only eight years old.

Kelly told the judge Fore did not submit certificates for his contract with his bid because they are not required until the bid is awarded for subcontractors whose work represents less than 10 percent of the contract price. When Fore tried to submit the information later, Kelly said, the port refused to accept it.

Kelly said the port's bid award was "arbitrary" and not supported by "substantial evidence."

Bourgeois said he had read every word of three boxes of documents attorneys submitted for the appeal. He ordered the attorneys to submit written conclusions of law by Wednesday. Bourgeois will consider those conclusions before he rules.

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