Delays in making repairs and coming up with ways to fix falling walls in West New York’s Veteran’s Park will force the town to introduce and pass a $3 million bond in September for more work, said Town Commissioner Fior D’Aliza Frias at a recent meeting of the county freeholders board.
But Frias, who is the commissioner of finance in West New York, could not explain why the town had not used the original $700,000 in county Open Space Trust Funds that had been authorized for the project, or why the town couldn’t provide the Hudson County freeholders specific details about the divergence between $1.5 original cost estimate and the current estimate of approximately $4.5 million.
Frias said the town is not looking for more money from the county. The town’s commissioners are expected to introduce a bond ordinance in September to cover the difference.
But the project timeline is very ambitious and the county is being asked to extend the time period until next January for the city to use a total of approximately $1 million the county has authorized over the years.
Different firms, other issues
West New York has had three engineering firms overseeing the project since its inception, but none of them were available to explain the details, leaving the chore to a representative from West New York’s grant writing consultant and the town’s chief financial officer – who have been employed in that capacity for only a year.
Frias, along with several other officials from West New York, appeared before the freeholders on Aug. 9 to request an extension to the previous grants that were awarded to the project.
“Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond our control, some of this project had to be stopped and prevented us from continuing, such as the hurricane last year that affected the whole program, and change of engineers and change of administration,” said Frias.
“Unfortunately due to circumstances beyond our control, some of this project had to be stopped and prevented us from continuing,” – Commissioner FiorD'Aliza Frias
The original grant from the county was awarded in 2009 under then Mayor Sal Vega, who said during a telephone interview the approval was based on a project scope of $1.5 million. This was meant to reinforce the wall that threatened to collapse.
“We were waiting to put the last money in place in order to start work,” Vega said. “But once the administration changed, so did the engineering firm, and the plans we made were not followed.”
Frias said the original construction plan was put together early 2010, and finalized in later that year. But the in July 2011, Mayor Felix Roque took office and appointed a new town engineer. The project, Frias said, was also delayed by Hurricane Irene, which forced the city to divert resources and required the engineer to concentrate on other matters.
“That set us back for a considerable amount of time,” Frias said
In early 2012, the project was reviewed by a new engineer, who found the project had not addressed the problem and that there was some confusion as to where the bedrock was. She said a new plan was devised to address the erosion and expand the park area.
Because of ampitheater, or not?
Commissioner Count Wiley, who was put in charge of parks in June 2012, was not at the freeholder meeting, but when contacted said the original plan for merely addressing the problem was scrapped entirely and that the new engineer hired by the Roque administration started from scratch and added an amphitheatre to the plan that was not in the original plans proposed to obtain county funding in 2009.
But Frias said the increased cost was because the new engineer found the erosion problem worse than first thought.
Wiley said the cost increased by $3 million because the new engineer expanded the scope of the project, and that the new foundation and additional soil required were to support the amphitheater that was not in the original plans.
Freeholder Bill O’Dea said that engineering fees for preparing plans are based on a percentage of the told cost of the project so that the new engineering firm – by expanding the scope in the project – would actually get paid significantly more.
Problems with the original plans?
Nathan Burrows, a grand writer for the town of West New York, said he has worked closely with the engineer over the last month and a half and looked at all of the documents.
“The original concept proved not to be sufficient since the purpose of the grant was really to build a wall that would prevent the erosion under the wall,” Burrows said. “Along with that came some probing in 2010. When the new administration came in, they picked the project up and then there were some natural disasters that took up the engineer’s time. They had some turnover in the engineering department and then really as soon as possible and the new engineer picked the project up and looked at original probes and some more probes needed to be done because the bedrock was not where we thought it was. This original plan will not serve the purpose of avoiding that erosion and creating a sustainable project.”
Burrows could not say why the city released the first engineer.
“None of the current administration was in place at the time,” he said.
Freeholder Al Cifelli asked if there was some kind of reconciliation between the first firm’s assessment and the last firm’s assessment.
“Just because the last firm’s estimate is higher, doesn’t mean it is right,” Cifelli said.
Burrows said the wall proposed in the first plan was proven to be ineffectual in dealing with the erosion situation.
“The bedrock is about 20 feet deeper upon further probing than they thought it was,” Burrows said. “So that wall will do nothing.”
So the last engineering firm decided to do a wall lower. Burrow said the cost of fill and the depth of the bedrock added a lot to the increased cost of the project. Dirt and gravel loosened by the erosion, he said, has the potential to fall into the pool and firehouse that are down the hill from that area.
O’Dea was frustrated by the lack of an engineer at the hearing, saying that the grant writer, no matter how versed in the project details, could not answer the technical questions O’Dea would likely raise, and asked for a meeting with the engineer to go over the project.
Looking to bond for the project
Neither Frias nor the WNY chief financial officer Margaret S. Cherone – who has been on the job for less than a year – could explain why the town has not used the money over the last four years, since the town clearly has expended funds for engineering studies.
Cherone said West New York received two open space grants from the county 2010 for about $700,000. But these covered two parks and a playground area all connected to each other, and because the scope of this project was so large, the city used the money to fix up the playground and a nearby park. But the city borrowed the $230,000 for those repairs.
“For some reason, the city never drew on the county money,” she said.
County officials said they met with representatives last February and learned that the city had done a good amount of work to submit for reimbursement, and have even expended even more on park projects that might be covered under the county’s grant.
She said the city delayed introducing the bond ordinance for the cost of the wall project and amphitheater until the issue of county open space grants could be clarified. The bond will likely be introduced in September to complete phase I of the park. The bond would go to the state Local Finance Board for review and approval in October, after which the bond would return to the WNY commissioners for approval.
Construction, Cherone said, won’t like start up until early spring. Burrows estimated the work will take 18 months to complete.
O’Dea, however, said the CME, the current engineering firm, has an unrealistic timeline for seeking and awarding bids, saying that company wants to do it all during the month of December.
O’Dea is seeking to award the extension with conditions.
“I would be much more comfortable in awarding this extension with the condition that the bonding be in place by Dec. 31,” he said. “That was we can be assured that the funding is in place to assure that the project gets done.”
WNY is looking for a two-year extension, but O’Dea said nothing might get done for a year and a half, and the county money would remain unused, while other projects around the county go unfunded.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.