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Nashua firm fights for lost NH state liquor deal

NASHUA - A local company that has stored state liquor for more than 40 years has filed a right-to-know petition against the New Hampshire Liquor Commission, alleging the agency improperly negotiated with a competitor.

Law Warehouses Inc. filed a seven-page petition at Merrimack County Superior Court in Concord Friday. The company, which recently lost a 20-year liquor warehouse contract that could put 80 jobs in jeopardy, is requesting an expedited court hearing.

A Liquor Commission representative denied the claims Monday, saying it followed a fair and impartial process in selecting a new storage firm.

Law Warehouses is asking that the Liquor Commission release information about the agency's competitive bid process that resulted in a contract awarded Nov. 20 to Exel Inc. of Ohio, which is owned by the German firm Deutsche Post DHL.

The Nashua company contends that apparent deficiencies with the Exel bid raise serious concerns.

"Based on the limited information released by the Liquor Commission to date, it would appear these deficiencies have the potential to cost the state of New Hampshire millions of dollars over the terms of the contract ... " the petition states. "From what we know about the Deutsche Post Exel proposal, it appears to have some serious flaws because it does not provide the state with the key service improvements they are looking for, and does not provide the best return to the people of New Hampshire," Brian Law, president of Law Warehouses, said in a release.

Law Warehouses, which currently provides warehousing for the Liquor Commission at its Nashua facilities, will continue its work until November 2013, when Exel will take over from a new warehouse to be built in Bow.

Five vendors applied for the state liquor storage contact. When the winner was announced Nov. 20, commission Chairman Joseph Mollica described the contract award as "a significant milestone in enhancing the service and revenue we provide to the state of New Hampshire."

Craig Bulkley, chief of administration for the Liquor Commission, said Monday that he could not comment on the legal action, but did elaborate on the bidding process.

"We are very confident that the process we went through was a solid one, and would stand up to any scrutiny," Bulkley said. "We feel this was a very fair and impartial process."

He said the contract will result in about a $3 million savings to the Liquor Commission every 30 months, in addition to $4 million in savings to suppliers and consumers.

"It is significant savings, and that was one of our goals - to engage a company that could provide efficient and effective operations, and save the Liquor Commission and the state of New Hampshire money to control costs of wine and spirits to our customers, and costs for warehousing to our business partners," Bulkley said.

Law Warehouses wants to see those savings in print.

According to the right-to-know petition, Law Warehouses has on three occasions sought additional information on the recent bidding process. It has since been provided with some redacted paperwork.

"Based on the very limited information contained in the heavily redacted Exel proposal, it appears that Exel's proposal was significantly nonresponsive to the (request for proposals) and should have been rejected outright," states the petition written by attorneys Christopher Carter and Suzan Lehmann. It goes on to allege that the Liquor Commission "improperly afforded Exel opportunities to materially revise its proposal," says the petition.

Law said Monday that if his company lost fair and square, he will walk away.

"We are hoping that the information comes out so that New Hampshire can decide whether the correct decision was made," Law said.

Bulkley said that much of the information being sought by Law Warehouses is readily available online, and that the Liquor Commission is working to publicize even more information once it is assured that specific details are not confidential.

khoughton@newstote.com


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