Council to take up Greens Harbor project costs

New London — Mayor Michael Passero this week said he planned to provide a full accounting of the work at Greens Harbor Beach to the City Council — after the project is completed.

Passero has come under fire from City Councilor Marty Olsen, his Republican challenger in the upcoming mayoral election, over what Olsen claims is a lack of transparency and approvals for a project that has nearly doubled in cost since its $1.9 million price tag was approved by the council.

The total estimated project cost has risen to an estimated $3.7 million.

Olsen additionally had called for a “full and complete audit” of the project because of what he says is a suspected breach of both the code of ordinances and a city charter provision that requires modifications of contracts to be brought before the City Council for approval.

“The mayor, at the August 19, 2019 City Council meeting, flatly declined to provide any information. This blatant abuse of administrative authority and lack of transparency must cease and those responsible (be) held accountable,” Olsen wrote in a recent email to council President John Satti.

When confronted at the last City Council meeting, Passero called Olsen’s criticism of the project “grandstanding” and said the extra work, about $1.8 million above the $1.9 million bid approved by the council in 2016, is covered with bonded money approved by the council for a variety of infrastructure improvements.

Satti has placed Olsen’s request for an audit on the council agenda for Monday’s council meeting, not for a vote, but to be referred to the finance committee for consideration.

Satti said this week that while he is not opposed to the idea, the costs of an audit are unknown and need to be researched. Satti said he expects that any additional costs will come before the council but said a memo from Finance Director David McBride this week explains that the final costs of the Greens Harbor project are still an unknown.

McBride’s Aug. 26 memo backs Passero’s explanation of the cost overruns and provides a summary of the work.

The original aim of the project, partially funded with $1.48 million in federal funds, was to reduce the flooding and erosion problems that have plagued the area along Pequot Avenue where the work is being performed. Drains were installed in the park and under Pequot Avenue to help funnel water into Greens Harbor, initially designed by the engineering firm Milone & MacBroom.

Colonna Concrete & Asphalt Paving Inc. is performing the work under the guidance of the city’s Public Works Department. The council approved the contract with Colonna in 2018.

The original project was expanded to include expansion and upgrades at the park and extra work to overcome obstacles along the way, such as a state requirement to construct a bypass road. Upgrades at the park include removal of trees, grading, installation of concrete slabs for picnic tables and repair of stone walls that border the property.

It was due to be completed by June 30 but was still ongoing as of Friday.

“All of the above improvements, expansions and enhancements fell within the terms of the original contracted work, or the amendments with Colonna construction authorized by the City Council, or were required to be completed in an expeditious manner in conjunction with the Greens Harbor project work for the health and safety of the residents ...” McBride wrote in his memo.

McBride contends all the funds used to pay for the work "fell within the allowable descriptions for infrastructure improvements relating to the Council approved appropriations for the bonds that were issued during (March) 2017, 2018, and 2019."

The city continues to seek outside funding to cover the final costs, including a request for federal funds through the state Department of Housing. The initial funds came through the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery program. McBride said the city also will seek reimbursement for the city's share of funding through the state Local Capital Improvement Program. He said the city also intends to seek funds from the Water and Water Pollution Control Authority.

Passero maintains that all work was completed under existing contracts and authorized funding and that “staff did nothing wrong except do an amazing job to complete a very difficult project.”

g.smith@theday.com

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