BELMAR, NJ — The state Attorney General’s Office has notified Belmar that it will not be reimbursed $600,000 in professional services fees paid to the engineering firm hired for the federally funded Lake Como stormwater outfall pipeline project.

When the borough awarded a contract for “construction management and administrative services” to Maser Consulting in September 2015, it did not comply with federal bidding rules and therefore is not eligible to get back from the federal government what it has paid the Red Bank-based firm for its work, according to a January 11 letter from the Attorney’s General Office.

The receipt of the letter was made public during the Belmar Council’s February 5 meeting by Mayor Mark Walsifer, who has directed Borough Attorney Jerry Dasti to contact the Attorney General’s Office on the matter.

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“We will try to see if we can address this and make amends,” said Dasti. “But the position of the Attorney General’s Office is that we’re not going to be reimbursed because of the way the prior administration appointed Maser.”

In addition, Dasti said that Maser Consulting is seeking another $200,000 for work performed on change orders as part of the project, funded through a $6.2 million grant in Superstorm Sandy relief aid from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in May 2015.

Completed last summer, the drainage improvement project involved the construction of an underground 700-foot pipeline that now extends from Lake Como to the ocean, designed to protect the flood-prone area of surrounding residential neighborhoods in Belmar, Lake Como and Spring Lake.

Belmar served as the project’s lead municipality, spending nearly two years working through a regulatory maze to gain the federal, state and county approvals needed for the project.

But according to the Attorney General’s Office latest letter, the borough’s failed to follow HUD requirements in the bidding process when it entered into a contract with Maser to serve as the project’s construction management consultant.

“We have endeavored to find a legally supportable solution to the issues arising from Belmar’s deficient procurement process, but believe there is no after-the-fact cure in this case,” the letter concludes.

Specifically, the borough did not put the project out for a competitive bid to ensure it was getting the best price for the work among the broadest pool of competitive bidders, the letter states.

Instead, there was only one bidder for the contract — Maser — and the submission did not contain all the information required under federal regulations, according to the letter.

In addition, Maser would not have been eligible to bid on the project at all because it had performed preliminary engineering studies and other work for Belmar in preparation of submitting the application for the entire $6.2 million grant funded through the HUD grant, it continues.

Prior to awarding the bid to Maser, Belmar should have consulted with the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection — the lead state agency for the project — on the competitiveness of the bid or to have the project go out to be again to ensure sufficient competition, according to the Attorney General’s Office.

The office also said that it advised Belmar officials of the deficiencies in July 2017, suggesting that if the borough rebid the remaining work on the project at that time — in accordance with HUD requirements — Belmar could have been eligible for being reimbursed on the cost of those remaining services.

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