Borough Administrator Stanley Sickels, center, and DPU supervisor Bob Holiday check out construction on a lime feeder room at the DPU complex on Chestnut Street in October. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)
By JOHN T. WARD
Working against a ticking clock, Red Bank’s engineering consultant got the go-ahead Monday night to design a new backup supply well for the borough-owned water utility at the Chestnut Street public works complex.
But the $82,500 contract was authorized amid rumblings that it may be among the last granted to T&M Associates under the Democratic majority that has controlled the borough council for a generation.
At a special council meeting held solely to consider the water well design contract, Republican Councilwoman Cindy Burnham, who has long been critical of fees paid to politically connected T&M, alluded to the GOP majority set to take hold of the council in January, when councilmen-elect Mark Taylor and Mike Whelan join Burnham and Linda Schwabenbauer on the governing body.
“We don’t know what things are going to change in the coming year,” said Burham. “Do we go with an engineering firm we don’t know we’re going to stay with?”
Burham also questioned whether the council might be able to negotiate a better deal with Middletown-based T&M solely for the well design.
“That’s my cost,” T&M engineer Christine Ballard replied, and Mayor Pasquale Menna jumped in to tell Burnham that the project faces a deadline.
The special meeting was needed because of a looming deadline: the borough is hoping to land a loan from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Environmental Infrastructure Trust. The loan, which is 75-percent interest-free, and eligible for 18.75-percent forgiveness, must be applied for by March 4, with “shovel-ready” engineering plans approved by other arms of the DEP.
Ballard has previously estimated the design and approval process alone will take about two months. Construction of the 750-foot-deep well is expected to cost about $1 million, according to borough Administrator Stanley Sickels.
A resolution to approve the contract was held up for a week when Schwabenbauer said at a regular council meeting last week that she had just received documentation on the issue and hadn’t had a chance to review it.
Town officials said the new well, which is for use only in emergencies, has been mandated by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection as a backup to the primary supply source, a well atop Tower Hill on the East Side.
Bill Meyer, a Tinton Falls resident who owns a downtown commercial building, complained during the public comment session that the council was acting without shopping for better prices.
“I haven’t seen any kind of research other than turning it over to one engineering firm that’s going to do it for $82,000 because it’s allegedly 10 percent of the cost,” he said, referring to a DEP cap on design fees under the loan program.
Burnham was the only one of the six council members to vote no on the contract. Councilman Mike DuPont was present by telephone.