Editor's Note: Mayor Angie Devanney attended Tuesday night's Borough Council meeting via Skype. During the meeting, council members voted unanimously to pull two ordinances related to the Municipal Complex. Following the meeting, the mayor issued the following statement on why this action was taken.
When I was elected Mayor, I pledged to make the taxpayers of Berkeley Heights my top priority as we took over the reins of managing our new municipal complex while doing everything possible to deliver it on time and on budget. Due to questionable actions by the developer, EPIC Construction, this goal is in jeopardy. It is time for us to stand up and speak personally and directly to the people of Berkeley Heights.
Our new municipal complex is a legacy building that will also house our library, police department, recreation offices and seniors space. It is a project that was long needed in Berkeley Heights and our leaders chose the right path when they decided to structure it as a Public Private Partnership (PPP), which in theory should eliminate many of the bureaucratic problems associated with a publicly bid project. Unfortunately, our partner, EPIC Construction, seems to have embarked on a strategy designed to prolong the time and increase the cost of the project.
I believe EPIC has never had the Township’s best interest as a priority. Upon my election last November, I immediately initiated a request for a meeting, understanding that this was the most important and costly public project of our lifetime. That meeting was rejected until I was sworn in as Township Mayor and two long months languished. Meanwhile, it was well known that significant soil issues existed, which resulted in costly change orders. Since then, EPIC has repeatedly filed for extensions of time without consultation or input from the Township. I have often asked the question, “Whose interest is the developer representing?” Certainly not the people we represent.
Meanwhile, the Township has continued to act in good faith. Repeatedly, we have intervened in the project using our State agency contacts, Governor’s Office contacts and relationships with our utility companies to help expediate approvals for the projects when other professionals have failed.
We are in contact with the project managers almost daily. Our bi-weekly municipal complex meetings end with one statement that we issue to the dozen or so professionals in the room: “What can we do to help make up time?” How can we help to contact NJ Transit (which was accomplished) to expediate approvals, utility companies (which was accomplished) to expedite approvals, or to work with the professional team in the room to provide information and documents.”
We have spoken directly with the leaders at Mast, EPIC and Harbor, to send the message that our taxpayers are our top priority, and that all of our project partners need to work to their top capability and efficiency.
THIS is what you do when you have a partnership and act to work together for the interest of our residents. It was a pact that we agreed to when the Township and the developer signed the PPP agreement in 2018. A partnership cannot be successful when only one partner acts in good faith. All of our efforts seem to have fallen on deaf ears as EPIC has yet again come forward with a demand for another extension of time.
Therefore, the Council had no choice but to pull the contract resolutions at our meeting this week. I applaud my colleagues on the dais for working together and agreeing with this approach. Our construction managers at Mast are going through EPIC’s proposed project extensions with a fine-tooth comb and will give their response to the Township after Labor Day. This analysis will provide us with what the Township considers justifiable delays – for challenges such as the asbestos and hydrocarbon found in the ground, and the salt dome phase taking longer than expected – yet it will also refute those delays EPIC is claiming that the township and Mast consider unjustifiable.