Northfield City Council agreed to create an ad hoc committee Tuesday to investigate how and when a sewer removal project on Tilton Road was approved.
The $184,000 project, which involved moving some of the city’s existing sewage system out of the way of Atlantic County’s paving project, was approved under the auspices of a 2011 resolution authorizing Weco Construction of Egg Harbor Township to handle emergency work and was not put out for bid in 2012.
Councilman Jim O’Neill, serving as council president in Lisa Brown’s medical absence, introduced the resolution to create the committee.
O’Neill was asked if a representative from Doran Engineering — which handled the sewer project for the city — had been invited to the meeting. O’Neill said he was unsure if Brown had invited them.
Mayor Vince Mazzeo said that the two-year contract with Weco included “general repairs” and was a shared interlocal agreement with Linwood.
The price escalation from the initial estimates of less than $100,000 — an email from city Chief Financial Officer Dawn Stollenwerk in October cited a figure of $81,000 — was because of work done at night to relieve traffic during the day, Mazzeo said.
“The way it was brought to us at the first meeting with the county was that the job was supposed to be done as soon as possible, so it was recommended Weco do the project,” Mazzeo said, adding that council was given updates about the project.
Perri asked Mazzeo whether an emergency was ever declared by the city, to which Mazzeo responded it was not.
“What I’m getting at is, who authorized the ‘emergency’ and why wasn’t it put in a resolution at the soonest possible time?” Perri asked.
Councilman Jim Polistina said that the matter was discussed in council Aug. 28, five days after a meeting with county officials.
Councilman Tim Carew said that after that meeting — to which Perri, head of the sewer committee, was not originally invited — he realized that Perri should be informed and asked the representative from Doran Engineering to stop at Perri’s business.
Perri said that the representative “did not ask me, he told me” about the project. “He said they would move forward as an ‘emergency’ and I told him I was opposed to that.”
Carew and Councilman Greg Dewees, who was also at the meeting, said they did not recall talking about an “emergency.”
Carew pointed to several minutes and engineer’s reports dating to October which he said shows O’Neill and Councilman Frank Perri were aware of the project.
Council minutes from Oct. 9 and Oct. 23 show Perri discussing the relocation of the sewer main, Carew said, while engineer’s reports from Oct. 9 state that Weco, which had “the annual bid,” would be doing the work. Another report from Nov. 20 states the work was completed.
Carew also cited a motion made by O’Neill, and seconded by Perri, to pay bills that included $164,000 to Weco for the sewer project. A final engineer’s report from Doran Engineering cited emails sent to Perri about the project in October and to “Mayor and Council” from November to March.
“And now all of a sudden we need an ad hoc committee to investigate,” Carew said before the regular meeting.
Perri said that notifications he received about the project were “after the fact,” including a bill of about $13,000 from Doran Engineering in December for work on the project.
The issue comes in the middle of a primary campaign in which O’Neill, a New Republican who represents the 2nd District, is running against Republican Carew for Carew’s at-large seat. O’Neill and the New Republicans now have the endorsement and ballot placement of the city’s Republican committee
Perri, a Democrat who represents the 1st Ward, is also running for that same at-large seat in November and would face either O’Neill or Carew.
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