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Boaters Dredge Up Trouble Over Nissequogue Project

June 22, 2008

By Bill Bleyer, Newsday, Melville, N.Y.

Jun. 22–Recreational boater Richard Kerr of Commack was pleased when Suffolk County last fall finally began to dredge the sand-clogged Nissequogue River channel.

His excitement was short-lived.

A few weeks ago, when he tried to reach Long Island Sound at low tide, he found himself in a little over two feet of water. He had to tilt up his motor to avoid sucking gravel into it.

“They made a very narrow channel, a quick fix,” Kerr said. “Storms just filled it back in again.”

The dredging had to be suspended in mid-March — when environmental agencies said further work could harm wildlife — leaving a tangled dispute involving the county, contractor and subcontractor. The contractor now promises to finish the job over next winter.

The county’s problems with the Nissequogue project follow its troubles with East End creek dredging jobs in 2006 and 2007 when about 10 planned projects stalled. The county disagreed then with state and federal agencies over environmental surveys required to assess the impact of the work. Hundreds of homes line the creeks, which boaters use to get to larger bodies of water, such as Peconic Bay. In the case of the Nissequogue, Suffolk’s contracts went to low-bidding firms that had never before done a county dredging project.

“The contractor’s delays are unfortunate, but, we hope, an anomaly,” said County Executive Steve Levy.

Said county Department of Public Works Commissioner Gilbert Anderson: “It’s been very frustrating.”

Hydraulitall after all

The problems started two years ago, when the county sought bids for the project, then rejected on technical grounds the performance bond arranged by the low bidder, Hydraulitall, a Riverhead firm. The county then rebid the project last year. JD Posillico Inc. of East Farmingdale, a major contractor on Long Island, was low bidder at $1.92 million. Posillico then hired Hydraulitall to do the dredging.

When Hydraulitall didn’t start work until two months after the Nov. 1 start date, the county pushed Posillico to bring in another company with the recommended equipment to finish the job. But time ran out with only about a third of the work completed. That left a channel 75 to 100 feet wide instead of 200 dug to or within a foot of the 7-foot depth required by the contract.

The county’s concerns about Posillico and Hydraulitall centered on their equipment, said William Hillman, the department’s chief engineer. He said the job required a dredge equipped with a cutter head that can bite into the Nissequogue’s gravelly bottom, but the contractors proposed using a water jet more suitable for silty material.

Time ran out on work

Halfway through the job, the contractors did switch to a cutter head, but ended up pumping only 38,000 of the required 90,000 cubic yards of material before time ran out.

Paul Posillico, senior vice president for the contractor, said his firm asked Hydraulitall “to bring in additional resources to complete the job and he did not do that so we had no choice but to bring in additional equipment at our own expense to complete the project.”

Hydraulitall president Joseph Edgar said the water jet technology could have done the job if he had been allowed to start the project on time. He said Posillico refused to give him a signed contract so he could not begin to set up his equipment until Dec. 18.

Levy said that because of laws governing contract bidding and the small number of dredging firms, the county could have done nothing differently to get the dredging completed by this boating season.

“There is a very limited number of companies out there that do this kind of work, and with the narrow environmental windows in which we can work, any untimely delay becomes greatly magnified,” Levy said.

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