Supervisors vote not to borrow for stream work


By David Avitabile

Wary of promises and guarantees that a federal agency will lift a suspension and continue to pay for the massive streambank rehabilitation project, Schoharie County supervisors Friday morning declined to borrow $10 million to fund the project.
Supervisors were constantly told that officials from the Natural Resources Conservation Service supported the $24 million streambank project and would lift the funding ban once AECom, the company overseeing the project, meets the necessary requests and corrections.
A meeting scheduled for this week may settle the issue and NRCS, which is paying for most of the cost for the project, may once again begin sending the county reimbursements.
Despite this assurance, supervisors, by a wide margin, voted not to borrow another $10 million.
Most supervisors were not willing to gamble that the NRCS is guaranteed to lift the suspension and resume payments.
The streambank project began about three years ago to correct flood damage caused by Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee. But after a June inspection of work on Dave Brown Mountain, Line Creek, and the Little Schoharie, NRC officials were dissatisfied and suspended the agreement.
AECom's Patti Flores defended the company's work and said they have cooperated with the NRCS.
"We have given them everything they have asked every step of the way," she told supervisors.
"We're jumping through hoops."
Chairman Dick Lape of Richmondville did note that AECom stated it would not provide drawings of past work done on a crib wall of the Plattekill Creek. Ms. Flores countered that work is not part of the suspension.
Jim Buzon of Middleburgh and Bill Smith of Broome lobbied in favor of borrowing $10 million to continue the project with no delays.
Over $6 million is owed to contractors, and the contractor on the Little Schoharie has agreed to stay on the job until at least September 4.
"The project needs to continue," Mr. Buzon told supervisors.
Mr. Smith agreed.
"We have more at risk not funding it."
If the county pulled out of the project right now, county attorney Mike West explained, the county would be liable for the $6 million owed to contractors, the responsibility and liability for an unfinished project, and many other costs.
Most supervisors did not side with Mr. Buzon and Mr. Smith.
The suspension of funding was because of improper oversight by AECom, Larry Bradt of Carlisle argued.
He suggested that AECom should upfront the money to pay contractors. This would give AECom more incentive to settle things with NRCS.
He was against borrowing more money to fund the project.
"I don't want to see the county borrowing any more money."
The county has already borrowed $8.5 million. Last month supervisors agreed to use $1.9 million to pay contractors to complete work.
Mr. Bradt suggested suspending payments to AECom and using the money to pay contractors.
It would be "an extremely dangerous premise" to borrow the money with no guarantees from NRCS, explained Gene Milone of Schoharie.
Borrowing such a large sum could eventually lead to the county's bankruptcy, he warned.
Borrowing the money was too big of a gamble for taxpayers with no guarantee, noted Sean Jordan of Jefferson.
In addition, he said, further delays would only add to the cost of the project.
Borrowing the money, it was noted, may not help pay the contractors because of the time it would take to get a bond.
Payments from NRCS would probably start 30 to 60 days after the suspension is lifted.
It would take between 45 and 90 days to get a bond for $10 million, according to Treasurer Bill Cherry.
In the end, supervisors voted overwhelmingly not to borrow the money.
Voting against the motion to borrow the funds were: Carl Barbic of Seward, Mr. Bradt, Bill Federice of Conesville, Mr. Jordan, Mr. Lape, Sandra Manko of Sharon, Mr. Milone, Phil Skowfoe of Fulton, and Shawn Smith of Blenheim.
Supervisors did agree to release $400,000 from the remaining $1 million in the initial bond, to help a contractor continue work.