- See more at: http://blogtimenow.com/blogging/automatically-redirect-blogger-blog-another-blog-website/#sthash.Q6qPkwFC.dpuf Filter Plant Cost Overruns: Either Incompetence or Lies, Comptroller says | Bronx News Networkbronx

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Filter Plant Cost Overruns: Either Incompetence or Lies, Comptroller says

Yesterday, at a lunchtime press conference downtown, Comptroller Bill Thompson re-confirmed long-held suspicions by local watchdogs and activists that, from the beginning, the Croton Water Filtration Plant project has been, and continues to be, a huge, money-eating distaster.

Thompson's office completed two separate audits on the project, one concerning the pace of the project and another concerning the cost of the project.

"What we found was an embarassment," Thompson said, calling out the succession of commissioners at the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Mayor Mike Bloomberg for their roles in mismanaging the project.

Thompson, a Democrat who is running for mayor, said the cost of the plant's construction will exceed $2 billion, more than double the original estimate included in the DEP's final Environmental Impact Staement (FEIS). If you include all the other costs associated with the project, the total pricetage is nearly $3 billion.

This isn't exactly news. We've been reporting this fact for two years. But what is interesting is how wildly innaccurate and vague the FEIS was in the first place. When asked about some of the numbers included in the cost estimates, DEP officials simply could not explain how they came up with them, said Deputy Comptroller John Brown.

Brown said the estimates in the FEIS were "deeply flawed."

The agency also changed its story as it attempted to defend some of the audits findings. For example, Brown said that when the Comptroller's office first asked DEP officials about how they came up with the cost of the plant and why its so much higher than the estimate, they said the estimate was based on just 30 percent of the completed design, which is a low percentage. Then, when the auditors went back to them to say that explanation still didn't make up for all the extra costs, the DEP responded by saying, actually, the estimate was based on just 10 percent of the design.

Even given this explanation, Brown said there are still hundreds of millions of dollars in rising costs that the DEP couldn't expalin.

Bronx Assemblyman Jeff Dinowitz, a long-time and vocal critic of the filtration plant, went a step further, saying at the press conference that the DEP deliberately "low-balled the estimate at Van Cortlandt Park" and inflated the cost of building it elsewhere in order to sell the project to the public.

Thompson let Dinowitz do the accusing, but said it was the result of "either incompetence or lies," adding that he believed that, in either case, the DEP "misled the public." Dinowitz said it was probably "incompetence plus lies."

"This is the biggest boondoggle in the history of New York City, and we've had plenty of boondoogles in New York City," Dinowitz said.

The DEP has blamed the cost overruns on inflation and escalating construction costs, which were not figured into the agency's calculations. They've also said the original design estimates for the plant were conceptual so they could compare the costs of building at different sites.

But the DEP should have included inflation in its estimates, as well as a range of cost estimates based on design changes that may occur. Brown said all city projects normally include inflation and re-design cost estimates and that the filtration plant should not have been any different.

Thompson said the city might face up to $10 million in addition fines because the project won't be completed by the federally-mandated deadline of October 2011. The audit said the project wouldn't be completed until April 2012.

His office offered 16 recommendations as to how the DEP could remedy the situation, including seeking a waiver for any potential penalties due to delays, immediately completing any outstanding designs and awarding contracts for reamainign off-site work, incorporating a construction schedule to meet certain deadlines and overseeing the work of consultants who do any future cost estimates.


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