OGDENSBURG — City Council unanimously voted to award a construction contract to Jett Industries of Colliersville for the $35.9 million wastewater treatment plant rehabilitation project, but also caught an earful from two separate parties skeptical about the process, Monday night.
Amanda Bertram, vice president of public affairs for Associated Builders and Contractors, Empire State, said her organization was seriously looking at litigation over the way the contract was awarded.
Jeffery M. Skelly and John A. Rishe, who have launched a write-in campaign for mayor and City Council respectively, had questions about whether the project was too big and too expensive, when the city was in fiscal distress.
Ms. Bertram addressed council twice during the meeting.
At her first opportunity to talk, Ms. Bertram said that after bids had come in substantially over estimate, the city should have altered the project and then let all bidders resubmit. Instead, the city removed most of the alternate sections of the bid and went with the apparent low bidder, Jett Industries, for a cost much closer to the original estimate.
At the second opportunity to speak to council, after the vote had been taken, she reminded them that she had cautioned them in November of 2018 that their plan to go with a project labor agreement would eliminate bidders and raise the cost of the project.
“What you should have done was pull the PLA, allow every qualified contractor to bid it and see what the numbers came in at,” she said. “You literally could have let every qualified contractor bid this job. There was no savings. And, I feel like you have done a big disservice to the taxpayers of New York State and the taxpayer of Ogdensburg.”
The use of a PLA, Ms. Bertram said, was politically motivated.
“You walked away from a million dollars in free money from the U.S. government. For what? To give this project to Governor Cuomo’s donors,” she said. “You know, it’s shameful.”
The city has been under order from the Environmental Protection Agency for several years to fix the aging plant. City Manager Sarah Purdy reminded council that they had just gotten an extension to allow for more time to make the improvements, but is facing hefty fines if the work is not completed.
The city was ready to go to bid on the work in December 2018 but delayed it to do a feasibility study on the use of a project labor agreement that has delayed progress for at least 10 months.
After the meeting, Ms. Bertram said her group was consulting with its legal team and would seriously consider a lawsuit over the way the bid was handled.
“I am almost certain we have standing, so we are going to have our counsel looking at this,” she said.
Mr. Rishe and Mr. Skelly were mostly concerned about the perceived lack of information about the project.
“We would suggest that a minimum of two educational meetings be held by the City Council; your engineers; and the Development Authority of the North Country to answer citizen questions and fully-inform them of this project,” they wrote in their letter.
“We’ve had 34 public meetings on this project since we began talking about it in 2015,” Deputy Mayor Daniel E. Skamperle said.
Councilor Jennifer Stevenson said she had been attending meetings around every two weeks since talk of the project started and that on top of safety and function, the plant needs to be improved to allow growth.
“We’re looking at growth in the city,” she said. “One of the first visitations we did to the Carthage plant, I was told directly by the mayor, had they not upgraded their wastewater treatment plant they could not have handled the new hotel they received and other upgrades. Right now this plant we have can’t handle anymore. Every time we get a heavy rain, I hold my breath.’
Ms. Purdy also said the project had been well publicized.
“Since January of 2015, there have been 34 public discussions of this project including eight presentations, not to mention numerous explanations and reports in the council public updates,” Ms. Purdy said. “There have been six resolutions seeking funding with the first back in August 31, 2015, which means we’ve been trying to get funding for four years.”
Earlier in the meeting, council voted unanimously to approve the issuance of an additional $9.9 million bond ordinance to pay part of the construction of the improvements to the plant.
The city now has access to about $49 million. While the city has agreed to a pay Jett Industries no more than $35.9 million, it has been advised to have the extra money available to cover soft costs such as advisers, engineers and others.
Ms. Purdy said city officials did not expect all of the available money to be used.