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Contractors’ association, village, question haste of county project

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LOWVILLE — An industry trade group, prompted by the debate over Lewis County’s proposed building project on Outer Stowe Street, has complained that the Board of Legislators is using contractors as a “free estimating service” and suggested officials should postpone the project until they are better prepared.

Joseph P. Hogan, vice president of building services for Associated General Contractors of New York, wrote to legislative Chairman Michael A. Tabolt, R-Croghan, that after reading a published report, “we write to express our concern that the finance and other details of this project are not too sufficiently developed to allow for this project, which is being bid on September 19, to be awarded in a timely fashion if at all. Of greatest concern were the statements attributed to you: ‘We are just taking steps and doing our homework. By no means does this suggest we are moving ahead with the project.’”

“Such a statement evinces a lack of appreciation for the time and money that will be expended by bidding contractors for the County’s project. A project should not be advertised for bid unless, upon submission of a bid that is within the then established and reasonable budgetary constraints for the project, there is intent and ability to award the contract(s) to the low responsible bidder(s) submitting responsive bids. If the County is merely doing its homework, then an estimating service should be hired for a fee. It is unfair to the industry to use them as a free estimating service.”

Mr. Hogan wrote that if the county is not prepared to award a contract, “the industry should be informed of that sooner rather than later that the project is on hold until the County is so prepared.”

Mr. Hogan said in a telephone interview that when contractors enter a bid process, they understand they may not be the lowest bidder and get the contract. Requesting bids, however, when other requirements have not been addressed, such as a funding source or State Environmental Quality Review process, he said, “shows no appreciation for the process.”

He said the work extends beyond the time and effort of one contractor, but requires the involvement of subcontractors and commitment to bonding.

Mr. Tabolt, in a phone interview Thursday, responded to the letter.

“Just because we do these steps, it’s not a guarantee the board will vote for it. It all depends on the price,” he said.

If the bids come back too high, that doesn’t mean the project won’t happen, he said. It simply means the project won’t happen now.

“It’s not all as clear as some people like to think,” he said. “If the bids are too high, we’ll continue to make payments in the form of rent, instead. We’re making our decision on economics, not what we’d like to have. It will be a future project if it’s not doable now.”

Mr. Hogan’s letter was prompted by comments reported Saturday in the Times by Mr. Tabolt as well as Constableville legislative candidate Duane C. DeLair, who criticized legislators last week for trying to rush the project through without public input.

The project also is drawing scrutiny from village of Lowville officials, who don’t think the project is possible soon and discussed their concerns with village attorney Mark G. Gebo at Wednesday night’s Board of Trustees meeting.

Mr. Gebo said the county cannot award the bid until the State Environmental Quality Review is complete. He advised the village should request the county submit a cooperative SEQR.

The county Board of Legislators on Tuesday agreed to initiate a SEQR, specifying itself as the lead agency. Village officials had not been informed as of Thursday if they were included the process.

Mr. Gebo said he believes a yet to be scheduled sewer study and traffic study should be completed prior to a decision made in the SEQR process.

Village Trustee Danny L. Salmon agreed with Mr. Gebo, stating, “I do not have enough information to be for or opposed to the building. The plan is fatally flawed with the infrastructure because they have not addressed our concerns. It wouldn’t be right to burden Stowe Street residents with traffic as the roads are now. There were sewer issues in the ’90s, with sewage backing up into basements on Stowe Street. I would hate to see this happen again. Until these issues are addressed, I cannot vote in favor of the project.”

Mr. Gebo said that not addressing the potential sewer and road issues could be a liability for the village.

In earlier conversations, county and village officials discussed the possibility of a joint project to get the roadways and sewer system capable of handling the extra traffic and water flow expected after the building is complete.

Mr. Gebo informed the village board that if any money is borrowed to address those issues, it can be subject to a permissive referendum by village residents.

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