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.
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.
The company’s first contact on the flyer is :
Maggie Moran: email firstname.lastname@example.org 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.