New London mayoral candidates spar over costs of beach project

New London — Republican mayoral candidate Marty Olsen says Mayor Michael Passero has exceeded his authority when he spent an extra $1.8 million on the ongoing drainage and park improvement project at Greens Harbor Beach.

Passero calls Olsen’s claims “outrageous and irresponsible,” since the money, he says, previously was approved as part of a yearly bonding request for public works infrastructure improvement projects.

It’s an election year and the two opponents have sparred a few times of late — most recently at an Aug. 5 council meeting.

The work to improve drainage and prevent flooding on Pequot Avenue at Greens Harbor Beach, a project managed by the city’s Public Works Department, has run into delays and cost overruns.

“I questioned a number of things about the project,” Olsen said. “I’ve asked the questions. I did not get a straight answer. (Passero) was doing a tap dance. The questions I thought were pretty straight forward.”

Olsen contends the City Council should have been asked to approve extra funding for the project, which initially was estimated to cost $1.97 million. Nearly $1.5 million of the funding comes through a federally funded Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery Program.

“I think the code of ordinances is pretty darn clear ... $1.8 million has been spent without authorization or even being brought before the City Council. It blows my mind that the mayor thinks he can spend millions of dollars without council approval,” Olsen said. “What happens if there are more cost overruns?”

“We have spent no money that is not appropriated,” Passero argues.

“He’s accusing me of illegal conduct. That is an outright lie,” Passero said. “Either he’s conscious of the fact that he’s lying or he doesn’t know the difference and not qualified to be on the City Council.”

The project is being paid for with a pool of money bonded each year for infrastructure projects like road paving, sidewalk repairs and public park renovations, Passero said. Bonding requests are approved by the City Council each year.

Public Works Director Brian Sear said his department prioritizes certain projects but will use the funds when needed to cover unexpected expenses, such as drainage improvements made at Jefferson and Garfield avenues last year.

Sear said this is likely the last year that infrastructure funds will be used for drainage projects, since the city’s Stormwater Authority now is expected to handle those types of projects.

City Attorney Jeffrey Londregan was not available to provide an opinion on Olsen’s claims.

“This is one of the greater infrastructure improvement projects that we’ve ever undertaken,” Passero said of the Greens Harbor project. “Expensive, yes, but I think the costs are very defensible."

Passero has asked the state Department of Housing for the $1.8 million to cover the cost overruns associated with the installation of a temporary bypass road, shoring, excavation, replacement of damaged pipes and expansion of the park.

Woodbridge-based Colonna Concrete and Asphalt Paving is leading the project and has run into problems of its own. Colonna has filed a breach of contract complaint against New London-based Cambridge Marine Construction Inc., with an address listed at 3 Shaw’s Cove, Suite 201, and the company’s agent, Jeffrey Johnson.

Colonna had a $728,000 contract with Cambridge, which had in turn hired two subcontractors, Terry Contracting & Materials Inc. and National Shoring LLC, to perform specialized work on the project. Colonna claims Cambridge Marine was paid $371,926 to pay its contractors. Cambridge instead issued fraudulent checks to its subcontractors totaling nearly $200,000, court filings allege.

Colonna co-owner Michelle Colonna said Thursday that, rather than risk further delays, Colonna has covered the costs to the subcontractors. She said Colonna has involved federal authorities for an investigation into Cambridge Marine.

“We’re taking a big hit,” Colonna said. “Here you have two subcontractors performing work without getting paid. What do we do? You just hope and wish and do the right thing and hope the court process works out.”

The civil case, which does not involve the city, remains pending in New London Superior Court. A representative from Cambridge Contracting Marine Construction could not be reached for comment.

g.smith@theday.com

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