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Unions sue county over selection of road work contractors

A coalition of trade unions is challenging the way Erie County chose two contractors who helped reconstruct a portion of Eden-Evans Center Road this summer.

The Buffalo Building and Construction Trades Council filed a lawsuit in State Supreme Court this week alleging the county should have competitively bid out the project before it chose Amherst Paving Inc. and All American Companies Inc. to do the work.

The lawsuit asks the judge to withhold payments to the companies until a hearing can be held.

A county attorney called the lawsuit "baseless" and said it was "patently false" that the two companies weren't chosen through competitive bidding.

"Every aspect of it -- from materials to equipment rentals to certain services -- were bought off an annual bid," said First Assistant County Attorney Martin A. Polowy.

Polowy said the contractors were chosen off a list of pre-approved contractors who submitted bids last winter to provide construction and maintenance materials throughout the summer construction season.

The county, Polowy said, is using its own workers on the project, as well as using three vendors to provide supplies and services.

Purchase orders provided by Polowy show that Amherst Paving has submitted invoices so far totaling $136,851 for "trench & culvert" work for the project. All American Companies has submitted invoices totaling $247,435 for "milling service" as well as "trucking," "excavator," "loader" and "dozer."

But an Article 78 lawsuit filed by the trades council contends the entire project should have been put out for competitive bid.

Paul Brown, president of the Buffalo Building and Construction Trades Council, says it was unfair for the county to choose Amherst Paving and All American Companies off the pre-bid list. He said that list typically is used for maintenance and emergencies.

"They would have a lot of people bidding on it, definitely," Brown said. "Especially if it's a phase-work job."

Brown also noted that both companies have contributed to the campaign of County Executive Chris Collins.

The Buffalo Building and Construction Trades Council has made financial donations to the election campaign of Collins' opponent, Mark Poloncarz.

Because it's such a large project -- the county has estimated it could cost $12 million in all of its phases to do the entire 6.6 miles -- Brown says the county should solicit bids from contractors to do the entire job.

Polowy said the county had not yet been served with the lawsuit.

He said the county does "miles upon miles of road" in routine projects using a combination of county workers and supplies and services from the bid book, the same way the Eden-Evans Center Road project was done.

"The county uses this arrangement on all types of projects," Polowy said. "Both the state and federal governments have audited this process and these projects in the past and found no issue with it."

County lawmakers in July allocated $1 million in federal stimulus money toward removing a slag subbase from below a portion of Eden-Evans Center Road and replacing it with gravel and new pavement. That work is complete.

Last week, Collins and the Legislature agreed to commit an additional $2.6 million toward the second phase of the road project.


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