By Brian Sampson
I was extremely encouraged by news of the construction of a SolarCity plant in Buffalo, where this large, publicly traded company will build solar panels. This excitement came not only as the executive director of an association representing contractors, but also as a Western New Yorker. There was a feeling that this good news was long overdue for the Queen City.
For those unfamiliar with the project, the construction of this facility is being financed entirely through the state of New York. New York will own the facility and all equipment within it, with SolarCity promising to provide 3,000 employees to utilize it. That is where the good news ends.
As frequently happens when dealing with projects involving the government, the devil is in the details. As Associated Builders and Contractors and our members began inquiring as to how to get work on this massive $750 million dollar-plus project, we ran into a brick wall.
The more research we did on this issue for our members, the more frustrated we became. In fact, it came to a point where our staff was actually submitting Freedom of Information Act requests to find out more information on the bidding, who was getting the work that was being done, etc. These requests for information have gone unanswered.
To further the aggravation, we can’t find out whether this construction will utilize a project labor agreement, or PLA. For those unfamiliar with PLAs, these agreements typically restrict competition, increase costs, create delays, discriminate against nonunion employees and place merit shop contractors at a significant competitive disadvantage. Those details are not being released to us.
What Associated Builders and Contractors wants from this project is what it wants from every public project: A fair and open process where the most responsible, qualified, lowest bidder gets the work. Since this project is utilizing over $750 million of taxpayer money, residents of Buffalo and all of New York should want the same. These were hard-earned dollars that should be spent wisely and efficiently. I can’t answer if that is or is not happening right now because of the secrecy surrounding this project.
Our members are hardworking women and men who simply want the same shot at construction projects as everyone else. In Western New York we have a number of civic-minded members who constantly give back to their community and who provide hundreds of employees with good wages and benefits. All these local companies want is a chance. A chance they are being denied by government secrecy.
Let’s hope for some transparency on this construction before the facility is actually finished.
Brian Sampson is executive director of the Associated Builders and Contractors, Empire State Chapter.