Were taxpayers gouged on Sandy cleanup?

In the immediate aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, Governor Chris Christie and Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa warned New Jersey businesses, gas stations, hardware stores, food stores, hotels and other retailers who had electricity and were able to sell life sustaining products and services to a vulnerable public against price gouging.  By the end of November, one month after Sandy hit, Chiesa’s office was investigating thousands of gouging complaints and had filed at least 10 civil rights lawsuits against hotels and gas stations.

In the November 28 release announcing the lawsuits, Christie said,

“The  last thing people put out of their homes in a natural disaster should have to  confront is price gouging from unscrupulous profiteers,” said Governor  Christie. “It’s illegal, offensive and completely opposite the spirit of  cooperation we saw just about everywhere else in our state in the aftermath of  Hurricane Sandy. I encourage more of the same treatment from the Attorney  General for any other instances of price gouging he discovers.”

A Star Ledger article posted Tuesday morning raises questions as to whether the State and 43 municipalities were gouged by the Florida contractor, AshBrit Environmental, that was awarded a $100 million no-bid contract to clean up state roads and waterways and allowing municipalities to hire the firm without going out to bid.

In the end, 43 towns piggybacked on the state’s contract with the firm, resulting in an additional tens of millions of dollars in cleanup work, according to a Star-Ledger review of financial records obtained under the state’s Open Public Records law.

But while a full picture has yet to form, anecdotal evidence shows towns that did not use AshBritt spent less than those that did.

In Long Beach Township, AshBritt was paid $719,309 to collect and haul 7,149 tons of debris — at a rate of $100 a ton — according to records provided by Ocean County, which has encouraged towns to use AshBritt.

By comparison, Mayor William Schroeder of Point Pleasant hired 15 temporary public workers, rented trucks and hauled away 50,000 tons of debris at a cost of $1.3 million, or about $26 per ton, records show.

“We managed to save over one million dollars in costs as compared to other communities that hired an outside company,” Schroeder said in an e-mail.

The Ledger implies that AshBrit CEO Randal Perkins’ national Republican ties and donations contributed to his firm being awarded the lucrative contract.

POLITICAL TIES

AshBritt does very little debris removal itself, but hires an army of subcontractors and pays them a fraction of the state’s contracted rates.

Over the years, AshBritt’s political ties cannot have hurt when it has sought out state contracts. Randal Perkins, the founder of AshBritt, has close ties to former Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi, one of Gov. Chris Christie’s early supporters.

Perkins has contributed $218,500 to federal candidates or committees — largely Republican — since 2001, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The New York Times reported on November 16 that after Hurricane Katrina, AshBrit was criticised for the many layers of subcontractors it hired to clean up the Gulf Coast, leading many members of Congress to accuse the firm of inflating the bill at taxpayers’ expense.

While AshBrit might have leveraged its Republican relationships to get the State contract, MoreMonmouthMusings can document that the firm used its Democratic contacts to secure municipal work.

Attached here is the electronic flyer that AshBrit and its New Jersey partner, Conti Corp, distributed to municipal officials soliciting emergency debris cleanup contracts.

The company’s first contact on the flyer is :

Maggie Moran: email mmoran@conticorp.com or call (732) 280-9600

Moran is CEO of M Public Affairs, a consulting firm with offices in New York and Lake Como. 732-280-9600 is the firm’s phone number. The company is comprised of former Corzine staffers.  Moran was Governor Jon Corzine’s campaign manager and Deputy Chief of Staff.  She has also been an advisor to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.  She is Belmar Mayor Matt Doherty’s wife.

Belmar is one of the town’s that hired AshBrit for its cleanup.  Doherty told MMM that he recused himself from voting on the contract with the firm.

Middletown also used AshBrit.  Township Administrator Anthony Mercantante said, “They were the only game in town.  We didn’t have time to go out to bid and they had the State contract.  It was a no brainer to hire them.  The State encourage us to use them, saying we were ensured full reimbursement from FEMA for their work.”

Mercantante praise the quality of AshBrit’s work, “Great work. No negative experience. I doubt many would have been able to handle it.” However, after a “few weeks or a month,” Middletown dismissed the firm, completing the work in house or with local contractors.  “Except for the cost, they were great.”

The Christie administration awarded AshBrit, and three other companies, another contract earlier this month for what little clean up remains to be done and for clean ups resulting from future storms, according to the Ledger.   AshBrit has the highest rates of the four approved contractors.

For example, AshBritt is charging the state and local governments $21.25 a cubic yard to collect and haul vegetative waste less than 15 miles, according to breakdown of the rates provided by the Treasury Department, while T.F.R. Enterprises of Georgia has agreed to do the same job for $8.72 a cubic yard and Ceres Environmental of Florida $10.35.

The fourth contractor, Crowder Gulf of Alabama, whose rates are closest to AshBritt’s, are charging $16.30 a cubic yard.

Kudos to the Christie administration for making sure AshBrit has competition the next time around.  Municipal officials would be wise to contact T.F.R and Ceres soon, rather than wait for the next strom to hit.

Posted: January 31st, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Hurricane Sandy | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

4 Comments on “Were taxpayers gouged on Sandy cleanup?”

  1. No use second-guessing now, said at 9:19 pm on January 31st, 2013:

    When the Gov.was quoted at the beginning of the disaster telling the officials and first responders to act first and ask for forgiveness later. In Monmouth, we did much of the work ourselves, and our first responders and officials have scored praise for rapid responses and care for those devastated and displaced, during an unprecedented disaster, and the work goes on. Often, towns are overwhelmed, so I kind of give them a pass using a firm the state AG contracted with.

  2. And, p.s., said at 9:30 pm on January 31st, 2013:

    If they all get their bills and proper documentation together,and handled their estimates and budget encumbrances right,and kept track of their storm- related emergencies, there’s a chance much of the money can get reimbursed by FEMA. It’s a bad economy, and unfortunately,one man’s disaster is another’s shot at business. When your state uses a contract let by another state, there can sometimes be issues, but again, unless anyone personally benefitted from it, am quite sure it was done with the sincere desire to get the jobs accomplished ASAP.

  3. MoreMonmouthMusings » Blog Archive » Gilmore’s Cleaning Up said at 11:35 am on February 3rd, 2013:

    […] County GOP Chairman Geroge Gilmore is among a handful of connected lobbyists hired by AshBrit, the Florida company that won the sole state contract for Superstorm Sandy clean up, who was […]

  4. MoreMonmouthMusings » Blog Archive » Belmar Councilman Takes Issue With Doherty’s Veracity On AshBrit Contract said at 8:02 am on February 6th, 2013:

    […] Councilman Jim Bean, a Republican, says that Mayor Matt Doherty, a Democrat, ”kind of lied” when he told MMM that he recused himself from voting on the borough’s contract with AshBrit, the Florida […]