New contractor expected to get long-stalled canal project back on track - The Buffalo News

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New contractor expected to get long-stalled canal project back on track

Work on historically aligned canals at the former Memorial Auditorium site is expected to resume by early September, with completion envisioned by next May, waterfront officials said.

Travelers Insurance, the bonding agent for the general contractor that was removed in the spring by Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp., is expected to name a general contractor or construction manager in the coming days to oversee the $20 million project.

“They’re seasoned guys that get what it takes to run a construction project. They are recognizing that the job is behind schedule, and they are doing everything they can to accelerate the schedule,” said Thomas P. Dee, the waterfront agency’s president.

“The positive message is we are moving forward, and we have a completion date in sight.”

The project’s restart comes despite letters from eight members of the Western New York legislative delegation urging Empire State Development Corp., the waterfront agency’s parent company, to reconsider the May 8 decision to remove DiPizio Construction Co. That decision was upheld July 12 by State Supreme Court Judge Timothy J. Walker, who rejected DiPizio’s request for a preliminary injunction to prevent the removal.

The project, which will develop canals that will serve as reflecting pools in the summer and skating rinks in the winter, was supposed to take 10 months to complete but has been beset with delays.

The slow wheels of Albany funding helped slide the original Thanksgiving 2012 deadline to June of this year. The date was later pushed back to November, and Dee said an engineering firm and monitoring consultant concluded DiPizio was still far behind, and that materials with long lead times had not been procured and critical planning decisions were yet to be made.

But Michael E. Ferdman, DiPizio’s attorney, said those reports failed to get input from several subcontractors who said in court that it was the waterfront agency’s design team and construction manager who were to blame for the delays. And he said court testimony suggested the agency did not want DiPizio to succeed.

“The oral testimony of Tom Dee proves that [the development agency] obstructed DiPizio’s ability to perform the contract from the beginning,” Ferdman said.

But Dee said the company looked for an alternative to DiPizio early in the process, only as a precautionary measure, after the company delayed signing its contract over scheduling concerns.

In a letter to Kenneth L. Adams, the agency’s president, seven lawmakers – State Sens. Mark Grisanti and Michael H. Ranzenhofer, and Assembly members Jane L. Corwin, Dennis H. Gabryszak, David DiPietro, Michael P. Kearns and Raymond W. Walter – claimed DiPizio was made a scapegoat for the waterfront agency’s project mismanagement.

“ECHDC management failings include untimely payment for completed work, denial of approved disposal methods and significant delays in addressing changes and requests for clarifications of the project design, which have caused delays in progress of the project to completion within the ECHDC’s original [at-bid] time frame,” the letter said.

The legislators called for a “thorough review of the facts” to ensure the company was treated “fairly and equitably,” and that the project be allowed to move forward “in a timely manner.”

A separate letter from Assembly member Robin Schimminger echoed similar concerns.

Bernard DiPizio – through companies he owns and as a citizen – has made significant campaign contributions in recent years to both major political parties.

But two of the lawmakers – Grisanti and Gabryszak – told The News they now regretted adding their names to the delegation letter.

Gabryszak said he was out of town when asked to sign on, and now believes he acted on incomplete and one-sided information. Grisanti said he was also out of town when he learned of the letter from a staffer, and failed to realize the letter’s “attack tone.”

“That’s not something I agree with,” said Grisanti, adding that he thought the waterfront agency was “doing wonderful work, and I’m not going to second-guess what they’re doing.” He added that he expected the waterfront agency and Dipizio to reach an “amicable arrangement” over payment.

Gabryszak and Grisanti said they were also unaware that about half of the delegation hadn’t signed on, which would have given each pause before adding their names.

Sam Hoyt, a former Assembly member and current ECHDC board member, said he had found the delegation letter peculiar.

“I used to be part of the delegation, and initiated letters like that and was asked to sign letters like that. Generally speaking, they’re slam-dunks and you’d rarely see a letter that wasn’t 100 percent, meaning unanimity behind whatever the cause was,” Hoyt said.

“I’ve never see a delegation letter with so few members of the delegation signing on. Nor did any of them reach out to us to see if any of this was true,” Hoyt said.

Dee said that with 48 percent of the project left, he would like to see the work completed in March rather than the May deadline Travelers has proposed. Still, he said he is confident the project is about to get back on track to compliment the three surrounding projects where cranes and construction crews have been busy.

“It’s better going the way we are going than the way we were headed, when we never knew when we were going to be finished,” Dee said.

Meanwhile, DiPizio, Ferdman said, is moving forward with a lawsuit against the waterfront agency for money damages in the “eight figures.”


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