WILLIAMSBURG, Ohio — The Ohio EPA did not want Evans Landscaping to work on a wetlands restoration project in Clermont County this spring, citing factors such as “contractor integrity” and “compliance with public policy.”
“A constant theme in contracting with federal or state dollars is the concept of ‘responsibility,’” wrote Martha Spurbeck, a grants administrator for the Ohio EPA Division of Surface Water, in a Jan. 11 email to the Clermont County Water and Soil Conservation District. She did not recommend giving the Williamsburg wetlands project to Evans Landscaping despite it being the lowest bidder.
WCPO obtained these emails as part of a public records request to Clermont County about contracts given to Evans Landscaping in the three years since its high-profile trial and federal criminal conviction.
A jury convicted Evans Landscaping, owner Doug Evans, and vice president of operations Jim Bailey of minority contracting fraud charges in December 2018, for creating a shell company to win millions in demolition jobs from the state of Ohio and city of Cincinnati that were meant for small and minority-owned businesses.
Evans grew a high school job hauling mulch into a landscaping empire over 35 years. Now the $35 million company has 250 employees, 200 pieces of equipment and does everything from small residential landscape projects to building a $5 million athletic complex for Princeton City Schools. It also has completed several stream restoration projects locally, including Mill Creek in Cincinnati, according to its bid proposals.
But that wasn’t enough for the Ohio EPA.
So a different contractor will break ground this spring on the wetlands project in Williamsburg. The project is partially funded by an EPA grant to remove harmful algal blooms from East Fork Lake.
Doug Evans did not respond to a request for comment.
A federal judge sentenced owner Doug Evans to 21 months in prison and ordered the company to pay $500,000 during a court hearing in January 2020. But he declined prosecutors’ request to ban the company from government work for three years while it was on probation.
So there is no legal reason why Evans Landscaping, can’t win government bids.
Conversely, attorneys say there is also no legal reason why local government agencies must award work to a company with a fraud conviction.
And plenty of local government agencies do still work with Evans.
The I-Team reported last week that Doug Evans and his companies have collected more than $430,000 from local government entity contracts and public purchases of items such as mulch and gravel in the past three years since the December 2018 conviction.
Hamilton County, the Kenton County Airport Board, Union Township, and the village of Newtown signed contracts with Evans for work such as demolitions, creek repair and snow hauling during the past three years.
But not the Clermont County Soil and Water Conservation District.
“I think the Ohio EPA letter speaks for itself. Clermont Soil and Water Conservation District agreed with their assessment and felt that Evans Landscaping did not submit the lowest and best bid,” director John McManus wrote in an email to WCPO.
Ohio law sets a general standard that municipalities should accept the lowest and best bid, with each agency able to define what “best” means for them.
After Evans submitted a $474,414 bid for the Williamsburg Wetland Project last December, staff at Clermont’s soil and water district reached out to the Ohio EPA for advice on whether or not to accept it.
The Ohio EPA, which declined to comment to WCPO, responded with a lengthy email recommending against giving the bid to Evans.
In addition to the minority contracting conviction, Spurbeck listed Evans’ past environmental complaints as reasons against giving the company the bid for the wetlands project.
She cited the civil lawsuit that Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost filed against Doug Evans and his holding companies last March for the alleged open dumping of solid waste and illegal disposal of construction and demolition debris at three facilities in Anderson Township since at least 2014.
The Ohio EPA will participate in that civil trial, which is set for August, she wrote.
“The Ohio EPA recommends against entering into a (federal Clean Water Act) funded subcontract with Evans Landscaping,” Spurbeck wrote.
Clermont Soil and Water Conservation District responded by giving the project to the next lowest bidder.
This wasn’t the first wetlands project that Evans Landscaping bid for, but didn’t get, in Clermont County.
Evans also submitted a $108,999 bid on the Shor Park Stream and Wetlands Restoration project on Aug. 24, 2021. Vice president Jim Bailey, who was convicted at trial with Evans, submitted the bid with an attached explanation of the conviction.
“The prospective primary participant, Evans Landscaping, ls unable to certify that it has not, within a three-year period, been convicted for the commission of a criminal offense. Nearly three years ago, in 2018, Evans Landscaping was convicted of federal offenses for allegedly violating the terms of so-called small-business and economically disadvantaged business programs involving Evans's relationship with a minority contractor, Ergon Site Construction - a company in which neither Evans nor its owners had any ownership. Evans unsuccessfully appealed the conviction and maintains its innocence.”
Ultimately that criminal conviction prompted Chris Clingman, Clermont County Park District director, to recommend in September that the board of park commissioners award the project to the next lowest bidder, despite Evans’ bid being nearly $10,000 cheaper, according to emails.