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Lockport awards sewer contract

LOCKPORT – The Town Board voted Wednesday to award a sewer-rehabilitation contract for the Carlisle Gardens subdivision to Milherst Construction of Clarence Center, despite complaints from a labor group.

Milherst pleaded guilty in January to a felony for defrauding the state Labor Department out of nearly $80,000 in unemployment benefits by having its employees apply for benefits in the winter, even though they were working on snow-removal contracts.

The New York Foundation for Fair Contracting, funded by the International Union of Operating Engineers, urged Supervisor Mark C. Crocker to deem Milherst not a responsible bidder, and award the sewer contract to the next-lowest bidder, Yarussi Construction of Niagara Falls. The group sent its general counsel, Anna M. Falicov, to last month’s meeting to press the issue.

But the board decided that it didn’t want to spend the additional $63,492 to hire Yarussi, and awarded the contract to Milherst for $355,885.

“Needless to say, we’re disappointed,” Falicov told The Buffalo News by email. “I believe the town’s actions drive home the point that the state should be debarring corporate felons from performing public work rather than allowing the decision to be left to the discretion of municipalities like Lockport.”

Crocker said that Town Engineer Robert D. Klavoon concluded that Milherst’s job performance was satisfactory and that it wasn’t barred from bidding by the state. “The company has resolved this matter with the court, and Town of Lockport taxpayers should not bear the brunt of a double penalty at the cost of over $63,000,” Crocker said.

Also Wednesday, the board voted to borrow up to $7.56 million for the second phase of a townwide sewer-rehabilitation project, which calls for the replacement or upgrading of 37 sewage pump stations. The first phase completed work on four pump stations.

The coming project will be divided into two parts, with 20 stations in the first phase, to be worked on in 2017 and 2018, and 17 in the second phase, slated for 2018 and 2019. The 20-year bond issue will carry an interest rate of 3 to 4 percent, Crocker said.

The board also agreed to pay Wendel, the town’s engineering firm, $447,000 to provide engineering services for the project, design the work and prepare the documents for contractors to bid upon.

On another matter, the board extended for nine months the town’s moratorium on the application of biosolids to land in the town. The original six-month moratorium was to expire March 17.

Biosolids have become controversial because of their generation by a plant in Wheatfield that uses food waste and sludge from sewage-treatment plants to generate methane gas, which can be used to produce electricity or compressed natural gas. The Quasar Energy Group’s anaerobic digestion process creates a byproduct that is high in nitrogen and is touted by the company as an excellent fertilizer, but critics say it’s merely leftover human waste, plus anything else that can be flushed down a toilet, and critics oppose its use on crops.