|Att'y John Lushis|
County officials expected that the GPA would award the $31.5 million deal to Kriger Construction, located in Dickson City. Work was expected to start right away and take about four years, followed by a 10-year maintenance period. But at their January 5 meeting, Council learned that the project will be delayed at least a year. In addition, it will cost about $1.5 million more than anticipated. The County's annual payment over 12 years will increase $125,000.
"We haven't even started and we have a five percent increase," complained Ken Kraft, who has steadfastly opposed this project from the beginning.
But why? Is it concern over being low-balled or the use of an unqualified contractor, or does Kraft have some other agenda?
In addition to his duties as a Council member, Kraft is also the business agent for Painters Local 1269 DC 21. He is also a member of the Lehigh Valley Building and Construction Trades Council, a consortium of local trade unions. Though the only persons qualified to perform bridge repairs belong to a trade union, Kraft seems to be concerned that other unions will do this work, to the exclusion of Lehigh Valley trade unions.
Though nobody is talking, the County appears to be the victim of a turf war between Lehigh Valley and other trade unions.
One of two lawsuits challenging this deal, filed by Kevin Lott, demonstrates that the Lehigh Valley trades unions are opposed to Kriger's selection as the contractor. Lott is the business agent for the Lehigh Valley Carpenter's Union. He inexplicably withdrew his suit in November.
A disappointed bidder, Clearwater Construction, has filed another suit over the award, claiming that Kriger is unqualified and alleging irregularities in the selection process. Interestingly, Clearwater is represented by the same Allentown law firm that represented Lott.
Judge Craig Dally ruled in October that Clearwater lacks standing. His decision was appealed to the Commonwealth Court, where argument is tentatively scheduled for March. Kevin Lott, a Hellertown resident and trades union organizer, has also sued.
Ken Kraft is the sole Council member to vote No to this ordinance, even though one of the union painting that he represents, would be used by Kriger. Kraft had no comment, but has previously complained that Kriger is unqualified to replace bridges. He is also concerned that there will be cost overruns because Kriger low-balled the project.
Executive John Brown has previously touted this bridge bundling project, arguing in an interview with PCNTV that the County lacks "the capacity to do this" and that it's time to "stop pretending we're going to get to the bridge repair." He has claimed that PennDot sees this "a pilot project that, when successful, they'd like to probably roll it out to the other 66 counties in the state. We're very fortunate that the Federal Highway Administration is taking a look at our project as a model to roll out, potentially nationally."
Mike Bonini, director of PennDOT’s P3 project, has said that Northampton County is blazing a trail for other counties.
Brown told Council that, even with the delay and added cost, the project is in the County's best interest. He noted that Kriger's bid is still tens of millions of dollars less than Clearwater's. "I still stand by the contract," he said, noting that the agreement was written in a way to prevent what he calls "cost creep."
John Lushis, GPA's Solicitor, claimed that the litigation gave Kriger cold feet and that an agreement still remains unsigned, although he expects it will be in place next week. "This litigation has had a very significant impact, and it's not just the litigation ..., but it's been the actions that have occurred behind the scenes by certain people ... ." He called those actions "dishonorable" and "distasteful."
At one point, Lushis confronted Kraft. "You checked me out, I know that. Quite erroneously, in fact."
Lushis went on to say that he was confident that the Clearwater appeal, despite the delay it caused, will ultimately fail.