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State funds won’t be used to cover Binghamton-Johnson City sewage plant legal fees

VESTAL, NY (WSKG) — The City of Binghamton and Johnson City will not receive state funds to cover legal fees associated with settling disputes with contractors for the Binghamton-Johnson City Joint Sewage Treatment Plant restoration and rehabilitation project.

Binghamton Comptroller Chuck Shager presented legislation to city council Tuesday indicating the New York Environmental Facility Corporation (EFC) has declined to reimburse the sewage plant owners approximately$265,000 for costs associated with assembling dispute resolution boards to handle contractual disagreements with several contractors.

Shager told council members he expected the EFC to cover those costs as part of the original contracts for the approximately $278 million project.

"EFC agreed with these contracts when we originally submitted them,” Shager said. “Now that we're submitting these charges to EFC, they're declining to make payments on it. Their statement is ‘that's not part of the fees that they would normally bond for.’"

The City of Binghamton and Village of Johnson City would each be responsible for about $120,000, Shager said. He’s requesting the city appropriate money out of the sewer fund’s general fund to cover the cost, then submit the expense to be covered by ratepayers similarly to how debt is normally financed for sewer plant projects.

The restoration and rehabilitation project is the result of the 2011 flood causing severe damage to the facility in addition to a catastrophic wall collapse later that year.

The city has settled several disputes with contractors over the last year, some without involvement of a dispute resolution board. They include settlements with Quandel Construction for $1.2 million in additional costs, J&K Plumbing for a $144,000 claim, John W Danforth Company for $115,000 as well as Matco Electric. Shager said the only remaining dispute that has not been resolved is with PC Construction and litigation over the wall collapse is scheduled to go to a jury trial next year. These settlements were passed via change orders to the project.

The New York Department of Environmental Conservation told WSKG last week that the sewage plant is still under a consent order closely monitoring the plant’s effluent into the Susquehanna River.*

“The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is working closely with the city of Binghamton, village of Johnson City, and the Joint Sewage Board to advance a comprehensive overhaul of the Binghamton-Johnson City Wastewater Treatment Facility that protects public health and the environment and will benefit the Binghamton region for years to come,” the DEC said in a statement to WSKG.

Effluent outflows from the plant have been well within its state-permitted levels for several months.

*Full Disclosure: The Department of Environmental Conservation is a WSKG underwriter.

Vaughn Golden has been reporting across New York since 2016. Working as a freelancer while studying journalism and economics at Ithaca College, Vaughn has reported for a number of outlets including the Albany Times Union, New York Post, and NPR among others. Prior to coming to WSKG full-time, Vaughn was a reporter for the Watertown Daily Times. Vaughn now covers government and politics for WSKG.