New London sidewalk projects proper, necessary and economical

This letter is in response to David Collins’ column, “Contractor with $1.6 million no-bid NL sidewalks deal sold off granite,” (Aug. 1), regarding granite curbing and the sidewalk repair projects being conducted by Colonna Concrete & Asphalt Paving. Mr. Collins made a number of allegations and statements that I wish to respond to in order to get all of the facts out to the public.

Mr. Collins is correct that the (New London) City Council voted to waive its bidding process to award this year’s sidewalk projects to Colonna. However, the background of how this came about is important. In 2014, the city competitively bid its sidewalk work. Colonna was awarded the job as a result of that bidding procedure, and one of the stipulations in that initial contract was that the city had the unilateral right to renew it for future work if Colonna were willing to hold to its 2014 unit prices.

After the 2014 work was completed, in each of 2015, 2016, and 2017, Colonna provided the city with written confirmation that it was willing to hold its 2014 unit prices. As is permitted under the city’s purchasing ordinances, during each of those years the City Council waived the bidding process and renewed contracts with Colonna pursuant to its rights under the original 2014 contract.

While Mr. Collins alleges that the city did not “check the market” by not bidding the sidewalk jobs this year to see if Colonna’s 2014 unit prices were reasonable or the lowest the city could obtain, the Public Works Department has done regular research to see what similar jobs within the state have paid for similar work. The unit prices offered by Colonna this year (which are their 2014 unit prices) are significantly lower than state and other municipal averages for similar work. This research and information was available to the City Council when they were asked to waive the bidding process for this year’s sidewalk contract.

Regarding Mr. Collins’ opinion that the new sidewalks along Connecticut Avenue seem to be “unnecessary make-work,” I would disagree. Replacing sidewalks on Connecticut Avenue was proposed, discussed and agreed upon by the City Council as an important project to provide pedestrian access connecting Connecticut Avenue from Prest Street and McDonald Park all the way to Broad Street, which received new sidewalks last year. Additionally, also included in this year’s contract were new sidewalks on Waller Street. These improved sidewalks connect the area neighborhoods with the city’s downtown, as well as connect with schools and shipping areas, and provides a very strong pedestrian backbone throughout the city’s core. This is hardly “unnecessary make-work.”

Finally, Mr. Collins takes issue with the fact that old city curbing that was removed is being sold and disposed of by Colonna and not the city. First, under the terms and conditions of the original 2014 contract, which has been extended each year, the city made the contractor responsible for the removal and disposal of any and all unwanted types of excavated material away from the project area, with the cost of removal by the contractor being factored in by them in proposing their unit prices and installation costs of new sidewalks. As such, the city is realizing some or all of the value of the unwanted curbing in the saving of not needing to be responsible of hauling it away from the project areas and/or storing it indefinitely, or needing to market it for resale.

Notwithstanding, it should be noted that the city does have a stockpile of old granite curbing to use in selected areas as needed; however, it does not have sufficient room to stockpile additional product at this time, including all of the curbing identified in Mr. Collins' article.

In sum, the contract with Colonna was properly entered into by the city. The unit pricing that the city is receiving for this work has been vetted by the Public Works Department; and the work being conducted is not “busy work,” but rather is important to the city’s pedestrian traffic plan and patterns. The small amount of value that the old curbing may have is clearly offset by the fact that the city does not have sufficient area to store it indefinitely, and the fact that the city is not responsible for removing it from the project areas while the new sidewalks are being installed.

Michael Passero is the mayor of the City of New London. He prepared this explanation for the City Council and provided a copy for publication to The Day.

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