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Jul 20, 2015 6:24 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Bureaucratic Red Tape Puts Hampton Bays Road Paving Project At Risk

In light of Suffolk County's struggle to set a start date for the repaving of Montauk Highway in Hampton Bays, the state might pull $600,000 in grant money that has been pledged to the project. AMANDA BERNOCCO
Jul 22, 2015 12:34 PM

A plan to repave Montauk Highway in Hampton Bays still has no start date nearly two years after state lawmakers secured $600,000 to help finance the project—money that is now at risk of being lost, as officials at various levels point fingers over the continuing delays.

A series of heated emails between state, Suffolk County and Southampton Town officials last week revealed that bureaucratic entanglements in both the state and county governments have restricted access to the 2014 state funding and, therefore, have kept the long-anticipated project at a standstill.

As part of the email thread, State Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr., who shared it with The Press last week, threatened to reallocate the cash from Albany if the road work on Main Street in Hampton Bays does not commence before the year’s end.

“In that the state funds were not used to accelerate the project and are now being used as an excuse to delay it, it is my feeling the state funds are better used elsewhere for a shovel-ready project,” Mr. Thiele wrote in an email addressed to Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman, who represents Hampton Bays in Hauppauge, and also copied to various other officials. “I cannot risk the potential loss of these funds because of the failure of the county to use them.”

In a last-ditch effort to get the project started this fall, the Southampton Town Board is now considering fronting the $600,000 to the county, in turn for eventually receiving the state aid so it can be applied to other municipal capital works projects. Mr. Thiele, Mr. Schneiderman, Town Board members and Suffolk County Executive Steven Bellone discussed that possibility on Tuesday during a round-table discussion at Town Hall, with all parties reaching a “handshake agreement” according to Mr. Thiele.

But in order for the work to start this fall, the arrangement must be put in place by this coming Tuesday, when the Town Board next meets, and when the Suffolk County Legislature hosts its final meeting of the summer.

On Tuesday, Town Board members Brad Bender and Christine Scalera confirmed that such an arrangement was discussed, though both noted that the exact terms were not yet finalized and that any such arrangement would have to be first approved by the town’s legal counsel—as well as the county and state.

“I just want to make sure we’re not putting out $600,000, and the state turns on us and then we’re stuck paying the bill,” Mr. Bender said.

After being approached by town officials and concerned citizens in 2013, Mr. Thiele and State Senator Kenneth LaValle each obtained the grant money from the State Department of Transportation. Montauk Highway is owned and maintained by the county.

The original project, which was supposed to repave the two-mile stretch of Montauk Highway from its intersection with Flanders Road, through the business district, all the way to the Shinnecock Canal, has hit several speed bumps over the past 18 months. County officials have blamed Albany’s unwillingness to guarantee the funding, and state officials point to the county’s constant revisions for delaying the signing of contracts.

After planning to complete the work in the fall of 2014, county officials said they learned that, in addition to paving the highway, they would have to install new drainage, curbs, sidewalks and traffic signals to bring the artery into compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. Eventually the county reduced the size of the repaving area to about one mile, from Flanders Road to Bittersweet Road to save money.

But the county never formally submitted its altered plans to the state and, in turn, Albany officials have not released the money. Now, with the end of the summer season about six weeks away, contracts still have not been signed and the project still has not been put out to bid, making it impossible to say when the repaving work can actually start.

The thread of emails that prompted Mr. Thiele to threaten to pull the funding was initiated by a July 14 email from Suffolk County Department of Public Works Commissioner Gilbert Anderson, in which he explained that the county still does not have access to the state money.

Mr. Anderson wrote that if the county can secure the cash before the next meeting of the Suffolk County Legislature on July 28, his department can post a request for bids by August 7, and accept bids starting on September 9. If all goes as planned, the county could even award and process a contract on October 9, beginning construction as early as the same day, Mr. Anderson estimated.

But in his email Mr. Anderson also placed at least part of the blame on Albany, stating that nothing can be done until the state signs a contract guaranteeing that it will reimburse the county for the $600,000. “Until then we do not have enough funds to legally go out to bid, and we risk not being able to be reimbursed through the state funds if we proceed with construction before the funding documentation is set in place,” he wrote.

Ms. Scalera, who was part of the email chain, also appeared to be caught off guard by the situation. She pointed out that the state grant was reimbursable, meaning that the county would have to spend its own money first and then seek reimbursement from the state.

“The work is supposed to start right after Labor Day—if there was an issue it should have been apparent well before now,” Ms. Scalera wrote. “Understandably, I am disturbed to hear this news and I expect you will keep Hampton Bays residents informed.”

When reached by phone last week, Mr. Schneiderman defended Mr. Anderson and the county’s Department of Public Works, saying they have done everything possible to complete the work as quickly as possible. Though he did not want to point fingers, Mr. Schneiderman—who is running for Southampton Town supervisor this fall—said county officials explained that they need a signed contract with the state, one that secures the $600,000 for the work and guarantees that the money will be transferred once the project is completed. That step, according to Mr. Schneiderman, has not yet been completed.

“Some of the state money is held up because the description of the project didn’t match the work area,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “It seems like a simple fix, but it has proven to be more involved.

“I know everybody wants to point fingers and say it’s so-and-so’s fault, but I don’t think it’s anybody’s fault,” he continued. “I think everyone is committed to making this work at the state level and the county level.”

As for Mr. Thiele, he said he remains committed to the project, but noted that he would still reallocate the funding if the county fails to break ground before the end of the year. If that happens, the assemblyman pledged to spend the money elsewhere in Hampton Bays, possibly tacking it on to another shovel-ready project.

“I want the project to happen,” Mr. Thiele said, referring to the repaving of Montauk Highway. “But, on the other hand, it’s obviously frustrating when you’re trying to help the county with a project that’s good for Hampton Bays and they don’t seem to be paying attention to it.”

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If these guys had a regular job they wouldn't last a week.
By Tuckahoe Ted (53), southampton on Jul 24, 15 11:51 AM
1 member liked this comment
So the paving project can't be done or has to be reduced in scope because of the ADA. It's this kind of sheer stupidity that makes Donald Trump the front runner for the republican party.
By bird (777), Sag Harbor on Jul 24, 15 11:51 AM
1 member liked this comment
Politicians doing what they do. What a absolute joke.
By dnice (2343), Hampton Bays on Jul 24, 15 12:12 PM
1 member liked this comment
Can you say Bail Out Schneiderman? So the Town is going to bail out the County and Mr. Schneiderman, classic. I never thought Jay was a good representative for the people and now this just proves it, cant even get this done when money is being handed to him. The people of Hampton Bays should demand that he is kicked off the ballot. Southampton Town residents need to make sure the Christine Scalera gets relected bc she is clearly the only one curently on the board that knows what she is doing and ...more
By hamptons34 (30), Westhampton on Jul 27, 15 7:04 AM
HB getting screwed again....
By HB90 (157), southampton on Jul 29, 15 11:27 AM