Rising costs for a project to stabilize four stream banks in Schoharie County following Tropical Storm Irene have county officials worried that taxpayers will be left holding an ever-increasing bill.
The project, already suffering from a series of delays and complications, was supposed to cost about $23 million to be covered almost entirely by federal and state funds. According to the latest reports, however, costs continue to creep up as the project moves along.
Patti Flores, senior project manager with AECOM, the engineering firm handling the work, told the Schoharie County Board of Supervisors Friday morning that several pending change-of-work orders will likely further raise the total cost, sparking frustration among county supervisors.
Those involved in the project said Friday that until the latest orders are finalized, they could not estimate the total cost. The increases have come in a variety of areas, officials said, from material costs and labor to changes in state regulations.
The original construction bid was about $17 million, according to Schoharie County Treasurer Bill Cherry, about $4 million less than the $21 million maximum that can be covered by state and federal funds.
But officials say a series of change-of-work orders, even before this latest news, has whittled away at that $4 million cushion.
“The change orders have raised the construction cost from the bid price of $17 million right up to just about the full $21 million and that’s before the major part of the construction begins,” said Cherry, who has vocally opposed the project from the start.
The federal funds are coming from the National Resources Conservation Service, which Flores said Friday may be able to contribute more if the project exceeds projected costs.
“If that doesn’t happen, I guess we’re going to be faced with the issue of whether this project continues or not once again,” said Schoharie Supervisor Gene Milone. “If we run out of reserves, then the only thing that we’re facing is passing on the additional costs to our taxpayers.”
The project aims to rebuild and reinforce about 50,000 feet of bank along stretches of the Little Schoharie Creek, the Line Creek, the Platter Kill, and a tributary off Dave Brown Mountain Road. Using various methods, the work will ideally slow and disperse the power of future floods, preventing the kind of damage done by Irene. So far, according to a presentation given by AECOM’s Ian Jewell Friday, work is close to half done on the first three and hasn’t begun yet on the fourth.
Project co-manager Doug Van Deusen, of Lamont Engineers, said construction began in earnest in November and, weather pending, will continue for at least several more months.
The project has suffered from delays and complications from the start. It was supposed to be finished by January 2014, but the search for funding, getting permission from dozens of landowners along the streams, and a revelation last summer that the county would have to pay more than $2 million in unexpected engineering costs have all slowed its progress.
“So we’ve got a couple of swords hanging over our necks,” said Cherry. “One is the local share. Even if the project comes in at $21 million, we’re going to have a local share of between $2 and $3 million for design costs. But then if the project runs into any problems and it goes above the $21 million, every dollar above that compounds that local share.”
To put that into perspective for a county resident, Cherry said if the local share ends up being $3 million, the county will have to borrow the money, which, if it pays back over 10 years, will be about $350,000 a year. That means a tax increase of 2 percent each year, he said.
“Without dealing with salaries, heating or energy costs, health insurance increases, retirement increases — just the stream bank project alone is enough to push us over Governor [Andrew] Cuomo’s tax cap every year for the next 10 years,” he said.
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Categories: News, Schenectady County