AIKEN - When the Aiken Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was burglarized in July, BNG America SRC, a Savannah River Site contractor, gave the organization $1,600 for a security system.
"It was the right thing to do," said John Paveglio, the vice president of the company, formerly known as BNFL.
The donation also brought positive attention to the company, which is among a host of large engineering firms that are anxiously waiting for the U.S. Department of Energy to announce how it will run SRS after 2006.
With annual budgets to run the nuclear installation that exceed $1 billion, companies interested in bidding want to put forth a polished pitch.
And while companies won't even be considered without a serious amount of know-how, a solid record of community relations doesn't hurt.
"They're trying to win friends and influence people," said Mal McKibben, a former SRS employee and the executive director of Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness.
BNG America's latest gift was one of many. The company has helped lead SRS contractor Westinghouse Savannah River Co. run the site for years, during which time it has donated money to dozens of organizations, from local high schools to the Augusta GreenJackets baseball team to the Boy Scouts.
The company has said it will bid on the site, either as a lead contractor or as a support partner. Regardless, it's maintaining a high profile, including donations to the Aiken Center for the Arts and Aiken Technical College.
"We like to look out for the community and help out," Mr. Paveglio said.
BNG America isn't alone.
As part of its bid request preparation, the DOE met one-on-one with more than three dozen companies to discuss how the site is run, including the Parsons company, which already is designing a waste processing facility at SRS.
There is speculation that the DOE will use multiple managers to run SRS, as it has with other nuclear complexes across the country. While Parsons is waiting to see what unfolds, it's maintaining strong community relations.
In addition to the donations, the company's employees are currently building a Habitat for Humanity home.
Pamela Amendola, a spokeswoman for Parsons, said the generosity was more about positive community stewardship than scoring brownie points with the DOE.
"They don't put emphasis on it like they used to," she said. "It might be one of those soft differentiators."
A DOE spokesman said community donations wouldn't factor in the agency's selection of a site manager, or managers. But past contracts have asked just that.
In 1988, when Westinghouse was originally awarded the SRS contract, then-U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., lobbied to include a caveat that asked whichever company took over to fund the state's university system, said Jack Herrmann, the vice president of communications for Washington Group International, the parent company of Westinghouse.
"I don't think it was the critical factor that won us the contract," said Mr. Herrmann, who helped prepare the Westinghouse bid. "It was more about the acceptance of our company in this community. Our success depends on the goodwill of the community."
Westinghouse was awarded the SRS contract again in 1996, when it didn't face any competition.
Included in that year's contract was a provision asking the company to fund economic development, in part because the work force was steadily declining, Mr. Hermann said.
Since it took over the site, Westinghouse has given between $14 million and $15 million back to the community, he said.
"You don't win the contract based on what you give, but you can lose it based on ill will in the community," Mr. Hermann said. "DOE is not going to accept a company the community dislikes."
Reach Josh Gelinas at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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