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Friday, October 07, 2016

NorCo Council Paves Way For Innovative Bridge Bundling Project.

John Lushis defends Kriger selection
Though Northampton County owns no public roads, it does own and maintain 115 bridges. According to a two-year old study by Keystone Crossroads, 25% of these county-owned bridges are "structurally deficient," meaning they need repairs or replacement. Three have been closed. Bridge repairs are costly. The County budgets about $780,000 a year for bridge maintenance. In 2013, then Executive John Stoffa persuaded Northampton County Council to float a $7.1 million bond that would only fix nine bridges. Three years later, Executive John Brown and Council are pushing an innovative proposal that might, in time, permit the County to fix all of its bridges at a much cheaper cost. It's called bridge bundling or P3, and is based on what PennDot is already doing with state-owned bridges.

Council member Bob Werner was an early promoter of bridge bundling, arguing that it is both cheaper and more efficient. But county officials were unsuccessful with PennDot. So John Brown decided to use the state law, called P3, to enable the county to take this project on itself. Basically, the County will convey 33 bridges in need of replacement or repair to the General Purpose Authority (GPA). That agency has already sought bids on the project, and is ready to award the $34 million deal to Kriger Construction, which is located in Dickson City.

Ken Kraft had numerous questions
An unsuccessful bidder, Clearwater Construction, sued over the award. It claimed that Kriger lacks the required PennDot pre-qualifications and that there was improper influence. But Judge Craig Dally ruled that Clearwater, as a disappointed bidder, has no standing. His decision has been appealed, but Brown decided to move forward with the project. At their October 6 meeting, Council voted 7-0, with Ken Kraft abstaining, to adopt a resolution approving the bridge bundling project with GPA. They also introduced an ordinance formalizing the arrangement

Kraft abstained because one of the union companies he represents does the painting for Kriger.

Shawn Langan, who chairs the GPA, told Council that PennDot was engaged in the selection process.

But did Kriger low-ball the County, i.e. give an artificially low bid to get the work and then have cost overruns? Its bid is $36 million, about half of what Clearwater wanted.

Brown stated that is unlikely because he hired an independent engineering firm, Alfred Benesch and Company, to vet any requests for additional money. John Lushis, GPA's Solicitor, said he went through "painstaking" efforts to insure that cost overruns will be minimized.

Lushis also answered questions about Kriger's qualifications. "Kriger is known as PennDot approved prime contractor," he said, noting that he spoke twice with PennDot and was assured that Kriger is qualified.

In addition to being qualified, Lushis told Council that Kriger had better financing plans. Clearwater proposed financing its deal by having the county issue "certificates of participation" sold to the public, which leads to higher interest rates and a greater financial burden on the county. Kriger is using conventional financing. "[Clearwater] brought in a Lamborghini financing proposal when, essentially, a Buick would have been sufficient," he said. "They overfinanced it to death."

Glenn Geissinger pointed out that the Kriger proposal is $1 million per bridge cheaper than Clearwater.

Brown told Council this is only the beginning. "We're addressing 33 bridges, but we have 99 to repair," he said. He said that once this work is complete, the county should move forward with another bridge bundling project every five years until all bridges are repaired.

Ken Kraft noted that, under the proposed contract with Kriger, the County would have to pay for moving any utility that might have lines on a bridge. Lushis responded that no contractor would agree to bear that cost.

Kraft also raised questions about Kriger's bank, FNCB,claiming that Solicitor Ryan Durkin's father works there. Durkin responded that his father was a consultant there many years ago and was never employed by that bank. Kraft also asked, "Who owns FNCB? Louis DeNaples?"

Brown answered that he had no list of its stockholders.

In 2012, the Federal Reserve ordered DeNaples to resign as Chair of the FNCB because of perjury charges that were later dropped. In 2013, a federal appeals court ordered that he be reinstated, calling the Federal Reserve's decision "bizarre," "untenable" and "scatter-shot" enforcement of the law.

Council President John Cusick, a teacher, was absent from the meeting because he was meeting with parents of his students.


Anonymous said...

This all sounds like a "bundle" of insider politics and money. Do these people ever not have connections in one way or the other.

Anonymous said...

Yes, the cost overruns. Oh and the utility responsibility. Does anyone else smell the skunk in the woodpile. Hey its only going to be money. Only 10-20% more, as is the case with most government jobs.

Anonymous said...

It appears PennDoT bundled overpass replacement on west I78. Several have the stone facade look. The first overpass took some time, however it seems the contractor is getting more efficient. Certainly, bundled bridge projects make sense when design and specs are very similiar.

Anonymous said...

@5:50. Those bridges are a completely different type of project than the P3. They are constructed on an accelerated schedule with special techniques. Not the same with this project.

I am hoping that the GPA has a better handle on how to manage a project of this type because they sure didn't seem to know at the pre-bid meeting back in early summer. Good luck to the County and its taxpayers.

Anonymous said...

When the low bidder is 50% of the second bid, something is wrong. I think Clearwater is from New Jersey. Only three bids is another red flag. No bid from a contractor who regularly does Penn DOT work in the valley another. Will be interesting to see how much this boondoggle goes over budget.

Bernie O'Hare said...

First, Clearwater is from Mercer,out around Pittsburgh. Second, I believe there were four bids. Third, this is specialized work in which the contractor provides the financing mechanism,amd that really limits the field of potential bidders.

Bernie O'Hare said...

6:53, Actually, it is very similar to the rapid bridge replacement being done by PennDot, which was involved on the technical committee and finance committee.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Oh and the utility responsibility. Does anyone else smell the skunk in the woodpile. Hey its only going to be money. Only 10-20% more, as is the case with most government jobs."

Council grilled GPA about cost overruns, and I think they took every step humanly possible to avoid them. Kraft hit them on the hidden costs associated with moving a utility, and that was acknowledged. But that would exist with Clearwater, too.

They were asked very hard questions, but answered effectively.

Anonymous said...

You are correct that the NC P3 is very similar to the Rapid Bridge replacement undertaken by PennDOT. However, the bridges on I-78 are NOT part of that project. It is something else entirely.

The PennDOT P3 is behind schedule and encountering problems and they specialize in that type of work.

There were several very qualified contractors who walked out of the pre-bid meeting (who have taken on this type of work) that wanted no part of this project.

In fact one attendee at the pre-bid meeting even asked the County if they had a firm in mind for the job. That brought a rather "excited" response from the County representatives.

Anonymous said...

Don't confuse Bernie with the facts. He likes this so all is good!

Bernie O'Hare said...

I have not decided whether this is bad or good. It is innovative, and the goal is laudable unless you like driving off a bridge and into a river. The question whether the bid went to the right person is the only one out there. I am all about facts. I was told that Kriger is not PENNDOT bridge qualified. That is untrue. I was told that the Solicitor's father works at the bank doing the financing. That is untrue. I was not told that the unsuccessful bid is about twice the one given by the successful bidder. Was not old that the unsuccessful bidder had a financing scheme that would end up costing more money. I do not think unions can be shut out of this job bc trade union guys are the only ones qualified to do this kind of work. I understand Ken's concerns about cost overruns, but I think that was seriously addressed. There is no denying that there will be hidden costs, but those exist for whomever gets the bid. Please, enlighten me with facts. I've heard nothing but insinuations.

Anonymous said...

Have you verified the untruths or simply taking the butcher's word for it?

Bernie O'Hare said...

I've asked you to enlighten me with facts, something you have failed to do.

Anonymous said...

My comments @11:34 are not insinuations, they are facts.

I would be interested to see what all four bids were and who the lead contractors were. Agencies use language that they award projects to the lowest "responsible" bidder. If the low bid is TOO low, then a thorough bid analysis is performed.

I fear (this is my opinion) that the County was blinded by the low number and this may come back to bite them in the ass.

Bernie O'Hare said...

11:34, I would not know whether this is factual bc the public does not attend pre-bid meetings. You obviously did, and are a disappointed bidder. You are not interested in facts, but in getting the work. If you were interested in facts, you;d name names, including your own. You did not appear at the Council meeting to rebut anything that was said. Instead you post anonymously on a blog. That will get you as far as the lawsuit did. In that lawsuit, you claimed improper influence, but failed to cite even one fact supporting a very serious accusation. I take a dim view of these tactics. If you are right, you need to crawl out from whatever hole you are hiding in and be specific. You guys left Ken Kraft out there by his lonesome.