A public county golf course that is two years behind schedule has raised red flags among some Hudson County freeholders, who questioned whether the delay was designed to help one of the contractors involved make a profit from the fill being used.
The project was scheduled to be completed this year but now won’t likely be ready until 2015, officials said.
Freeholder Bill O’Dea said he believes the project is currently the subject of an FBI probe looking into possible questions of overtime. The FBI took records and computers from the Hudson County Improvement Authority (HCIA) offices in February 2012.
The HCIA is an autonomous agency that has a variety of roles, from acting as a kind of bank for municipalities, lending money or backing other loans, to overseeing countywide recycling, transportation, affordable housing, and other services. It has used its bonding power to help fund large projects, such as the golf course and parking facilities for the Red Bull Stadium in Harrison. Loans from the HCIA have helped various municipalities deal with budget shortfalls, such as the acquisition by the HCIA of public buildings in Union City and Bayonne over the last decade.
The county is currently constructing a golf course at Lincoln Park in Jersey City adjacent to Route 440. The work, which has been underway for more than a year, has included the demolition of buildings that formerly housed the Sheriff’s Department and other operations off Duncan Avenue.
Located in Lincoln Park West, the course will be built on approximately 60 acres of underutilized land and was supposed to have taken 18 to 24 months to complete.
When completed the course is to feature three par-five holes, three par-four holes, and three par-three holes, totaling approximately 3,200 yards.
One of the delays was caused by the Lincoln Park Wetland Restoration Project, along the proposed new course’s south border, which would restore approximately 31 acres of wetlands, create 4,500 linear feet of tidal creeks, and initiate a new walking trail near the Hackensack River. This area suffered some damage as a result of Hurricane Sandy.
“It is n no secret that the FBI seized records from HCIA.” – Bill O’Dea
Another project underway in the area would cap a landfill on a portion of land on which the golf course is slated to be built.
Financing for the construction of the course comes from a mix of state grants and long-term capital bonding, according to the Hudson County Executive’s office. The cost is estimated to be $6 million. Profits from the course will be plowed back into the course’s operation.
The delays and other questions about the project at the April 9 freeholder caucus meeting caused Freeholder Chairman Anthony Romano to dub it “a sticky mess.”
O’Dea raised questions about the project when HCIA officials sought a third extension to a contractor providing fill dirt. The contractor won the original bid based on the county requirement that the fill be provided within a nine-month period, but extensions have granted the firm more than twice that time, and O’Dea said this may have been unfair to other bidders.
“A couple of weeks ago, I got a series of emails from an attorney representing an entity, offering to provide materials as part of mitigation,” O’Dea said. This was from a firm that had apparently not been part of the original bidding process, but it brought to his attention a potential problem with the extensions offered to the current firm.
O’Dea said his own investigation of documentation showed that the firm that was awarded the bid had had more time to do the work than was outlined in the original bid specifications, and that because the company was making money by disposing of the fill, this may have been a contributing factor to delaying the golf-course project.
Norman Guerra, executive director of the HCIA, said the HCIA extended the original contract period twice.
Part of the problem is that the site could not accommodate all the needed fill at one time, but Guerra assured the freeholders that the newest contract extension would be the last and that the fill would likely be completed by June.
Michael Cohen, engineer on the project, said as soon as the material is placed, the project will go into its next phase, which will be bid out.
When originally bid there were eight vendors, some of which wanted to charge the county for materials. But the vendor who eventually won paid the county on each ton of fill. Some vendors might have changed their bids had they known they would have more than two years to provide the material, O’Dea said. When the contract was bid two years ago, there were a number of other projects competing for fill material.
“Awarding it to another contractor might have cost more but would have allowed the county to move ahead with the next phase of the project and get the golf course done sooner,” O’Dea said. “This company is making money on the difference in cost of what they give the county to dump the material. It is no secret that the FBI seized records from HCIA. I have a concern about this project and these two extensions. The more time this company has, more time to shop for better deals and delays the construction of the golf course.”
O’Dea asked the freeholders’ attorney to look at the contract for penalties that might be imposed for not having the fill provided in the original time frame.
“Chances are it will end up in litigation,” he said.
Guerra said there were other delays that have nothing to do with the fill contract, especially the wetlands restoration project, which took a long time.
“They were delayed, which delayed us,” Guerra said, noting that the delay was the result of a host of issues. “The muck that came out of the wetlands was like soup,” he said.
A report also raised concerns about the golf course’s ability to weather future storms similar to Hurricane Sandy. Part of the additional fill was to raise the golf course higher than originally projected to handle the impact of a 100-year storm surge. Since the buildings on site are only temporary, these are less of a concern, Guerra said, although O’Dea stressed the need for permanent structures to be designed to handle even more powerful storms.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.