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Fight for Grand Teton|Tour Contract Goes On

(CN) - A Wyoming tour company's renewed claims against the Department of the Interior over shunned bids on cross-country ski tour contracts in Grand Teton National Park may proceed, a federal judge ruled.

Eco Tour Adventures originally sued the Department of the Interior in 2013. The Jackson Hole, Wyoming-based company challenged separate concessions contracts issued by the department for cross-country ski tours in picturesque Grand Teton, which went to its competitors.

The company launched guided tours of the park in 2008.

Eco Tour claims that in 2012 the National Park Service issued a prospectus soliciting proposals for three 10-year concessions contracts to provide guided ski-tour services in Grand Teton.

Services at the time were offered by three incumbent concessioners designated a "preferred offeror."

The designation afforded the companies a "right of preference," which allowed them to match any better offer from a new bidder so long as they submitted a "responsive proposal which satisfied the minimum requirements established by the National Park Service," according to a 28-page memorandum opinion by U.S. District Chief Judge Beryl Howell of the D.C. District.

Eco Tour submitted proposals for two of the concessions contracts, which were eventually awarded to the incumbents.

The companies, Eco Tour said, failed to include financial information required by the prospectus, which rendered their proposals unresponsive.

Meanwhile, Eco Tour said the National Park Service acted arbitrarily and capriciously, and breached a contractual obligation to consider bids fairly and honestly by allowing the incumbents to match Eco Tour's bids.

The U.S. Court of Federal Claims found in 2014 found that Eco Tour's bids weren't fairly considered and awarded the company $36,250 as reimbursement of costs incurred in submitting its bid over the disputed contracts. However, the court added that it lacked jurisdiction to order the equitable and declaratory relief the company requested.

Following judgment on the claim, the National Park Service awarded the disputed contracts to the incumbent concessioners in July 2014.

Eco Tour again sued the Interior Department in December 2014 under the Administrative Procedure Act, seeking to rescind the contracts and an order requiring the National Park Service to reassign the contracts.

Eco Tour claims the park service took advantage of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims' "lack of authority to provide full relief" and "proceeded to award the two contracts to its long-time incumbent contractors in violation of the law."

Eco Tour added that the "illegality of National Park Service's conduct has already been determined by the Court of Federal Claims," and that the service was "required by law to reject the incumbent concessioners' proposals and award the contracts to Eco Tour because the park service had evaluated Eco Tour's proposal as the best among all proposals received."

Eco Tour seeks two contracts under full 10-year terms, beginning in 2015.

The Interior Department filed a motion to dismiss the renewed lawsuit, which Howell rejected on March 27. She said the department offered "little support for its suggestion" that Eco Tour suffered no injury-in-fact to pursue an Administrative Procedure Act claim.

"While the court need not resolve the issue entirely at this early stage, the fact that the National Park Service awarded the disputed contracts to the incumbent concessioners only after the resolution of the earlier proceedings before the Court of Federal Claims suggests that, but for the alleged illegality in the consideration of these contractors' proposals, the plaintiff would have been awarded each of these contracts," Howell wrote.

"While the defendants may yet demonstrate that the plaintiff is not entitled to relief under the Administrative Procedure Act, the court is not persuaded that the plaintiff is barred entirely from seeking complete relief for the defendants' allegedly arbitrary and capricious actions, and the defendants' request to dismiss the present action is therefore denied," Howell added.

Howell replaced U.S. District Judge Richard Roberts, who retired last month amid allegations that he sexually abused a 16-year-old witness during the 1980s trial of white supremacist serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin.

Grand Teton National Park, 10 miles south of Yellowstone National Park, spans 310,000 acres in northwestern Wyoming and includes the major peaks of the 40-mile-long Teton Range.

Outdoor enthusiasts flock to the area for mountaineering, hiking, camping and fishing.

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