July 26, 2006

Reclamation Fallout: Grimes Gets Axe

After months of public outcry, the furor over the Riverhead landfill has escalated to a fever pitch and resulted in the project's contractors getting thrown off the job.

The Riverhead Town Board held a special work session last Wednesday to discuss the controversial Young's Avenue landfill reclamation project as well as findings from an outside engineering and auditing firm that sought to find answers to problems that have ended up costing the town a total of $40 million, so far.

The project began over a decade ago after a court-mandated ordered the town to shut down its landfill.

In the years since, reclamation was intended to clean up the landfill by removing all the garbage. Once reclaimed, the town planned to use the property for a park or possibly sell the parcel's development rights. Capping the landfill, as many municipalities do, would have meant reclamation and development were not options.

The project hit a roadblock recently when it was learned that the cost for reclamation would be substantially more than originally estimated after the town learned there appeared to be more garbage than was first anticipated.

Riverhead Town Supervisor Phil Cardinale informed concerned residents that the town was investigating the situation and an audit and a report to be rendered by an outside engineering firm would provide answers. It turns out that the quantity of material mined and removed from the landfill equals just under 1 million cubic feet.

However, the key question remained: What's left? And although it was originally anticipated that 1.3 to 1.5 million cubic feet of material was to be removed, the actual volume was closer to 3 million cubic feet. And, said Cardinale, there is "just under 2 million cubic yards of compacted refuse and recyclables remaining."

Other questions remained unanswered, including the estimated cost of capping the landfill and whether "sound, reasonable judgment" was used by operating engineers.

Cardinale had a number of recommendations, the first being to cease operations at the site immediately. "We have to stop spending money and take time to return to the drawing board," he said, adding the town has been spending up to $700,000 a month. "I can't afford to spend any more money, and neither can you."

To that end, the board passed a resolution last week terminating the contract of Montauk-based Grimes, Contracting Co. Inc. A letter to Deborah Grimes, president of the company, stated Grimes was in default under the terms of the contract for "failing to meet performance standards" and by admitting inability to complete the performance of the contract work within the time specified."

Grimes did not return calls for comment by press time.

Cardinale said there was some good news: According to the "fluff" factor involved in waste removal, or being billed for more cubic yards of waste than were actually removed, the supervisor said the town is actually owed approximately $2 million.

The findings showed not only was the town wrong in the volume of waste to be removed, it was also wrong in assessing the footprint of the landfill, which led to the increase in costs. There was no mishandling of money, he assured.

In addition to cessation of work at the site, Cardinale recommended other alternatives, such as asking the DEC for an extension.

He also recommended seeking new engineers, considering all options for public and private funding, exploring all possible revenue sources, including sale of sand and recyclables, and the possible creation of a recreational facility. Sale of development rights to the 70-acre landfill was also considered. Should sale to the private sector commence, Cardinale suggested the creation of tax credits for RFP responders. Another source of funding, he said, might be litigation revenues.

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