More than two months after the electrical contractor at the Croton Water Filtration Plant paid a $10 million fine for failing to have a master electrician on site, the Department of Environmental Protection still refuses to comment on the case.
The DEP was expected to break its silence about the fraud at last week’s Croton Filtration Monitoring Committee meeting, and also to answer questions about how the filtration plant would function without a backup power source. Both items were on CFMC’s meeting agenda.
But Shane Ojar, who represents the DEP at the meetings, said the DEP is still in the process of drafting a response.
“It’s just a process,” he said. “It’s unfortunately taking a little longer than we had hoped.”
This did not sit well with monitoring committee chair Bob Fanuzzi, who also serves as chair of Community Board 8.
“That was a slap in the face,” Mr. Fanuzzi said. “I’ve never had an agenda item cancelled by an agency the day of a meeting ever in all my years of work in the community.”
In January, Schlesinger-Siemens Electrical, LLC, which changed its name to Siemens Electrical, LLC in 2012, paid $10 million to settle with the city for violating an electrical code that requires electrical companies doing business with the city to have a licensed master electrician on the job. Shortly after the settlement was made, the Croton Filtration Monitoring Committee asked the DEP about it at a meeting, but DEP would not comment.
“I’ve never seen an agency pull up short two consecutive meetings and have nothing to offer,” Mr. Fanuzzi said, adding that he’s “steamed” at the DEP.
Mr. Fanuzzi drafted a letter to DEP Commissioner Carter Strickland after not receiving a response from the DEP during the first go-round in late January. Mr. Fanuzzi and members of the Croton Filtration Monitoring Committee want to know more about the DEP’s oversight of contractors and to make sure the work being performed on the $3 billion plant is up to par.
DEP officials claim they did not know that a contractor it was paying to do more than $200 million in electrical work at the plant did not employ a master electrician over a period of two years.
When asked in January how that was possible, the DEP press office could not answer and referred a reporter to a statement from the Department of Investigation.
“The monitor, hired by the DEP at the outset of the Croton project to work with DOI to oversee this important infrastructure work, alerted DOI to the issue that the licensee for Schlesinger-Siemens expired. The proactive presence of the city’s monitor on this project has continued to yield important information, while permitting the project to move along,” reads Department of Investigation Commissioner Rose Gill Hearn’s statement, in part.
This is the second time in recent years that a fraud case was settled with a contractor working on the filtration plant.
In 2010, the integrity monitor at Croton also uncovered fraud that led to a $20 million settlement with Schiavone Construction Company, for engaging in a scheme that violated the Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprises program. In 2011, the largest contractor at Croton, Skanska, was caught violating the same rules on projects other than the Filtration Plant, and agreed to settle for $20 million.
Mr. Fanuzzi’s question is one many elected officials and community activists have been asking since the first settlement: How can the DEP be unaware of the fraudulent actions of its contractors?
“They’ve got 43 acres and they do whatever they want … Now they are sticking a middle finger at the community,” said Gary Axelbank, a longtime critic of the filtration plant who lives near the Jerome Park Reservoir.
Mr. Ojar apologized to the committee and said the DEP would have a response,
“hopefully in the next couple of weeks.”