Court voids Hempstead Town's contract with tank installer

Installation of new petroleum dispensing station at Hempstead Installation of new petroleum dispensing station at Hempstead Town's Baldwin Park. (Oct. 25, 2013) Photo Credit: Newsday/Aisha Al-Muslim

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A State Supreme Court justice has declared invalid a $394,800 contract awarded by the Town of Hempstead to a second bidder of a project to install a petroleum dispensing station in Baldwin Park.

The decision from Judge Arthur M. Diamond came after Holtsville-based Aventura Construction Corp., a contractor specializing in gasoline storage tank and pump installations, filed a lawsuit on July 25 against the Town of Hempstead and East Northport-based Island Pump & Tank Corp. The suit stems from the town awarding the project contract to Island despite Aventura being the lowest bidder for the initial bid and subsequent rebid with its $385,978 proposal.

"Acceptance of a higher bid . . . gives rise to speculation that favoritism, improvidence, extravagance, fraud or corruption may have played a role in the decision," said Diamond, who instructed the town to reopen bidding for the project.

Aventura owner Frank DeMeyer alleged the town's actions were designed to exclude his company because of his ongoing dispute with Plumbers Local Union No. 200, based in Ronkonkoma, and to ensure the project was awarded to union contractor Island.

"All I want is to have a fair shot," said DeMeyer, a civil engineer who started his company in 2001. "A qualified business should be allowed to freely bid on public projects without undue influence from competitors, unions or favoritism of municipal employees."

Town spokesman Michael Deery said Hempstead will appeal the judge's decision. Island and the plumbers union did not respond to requests for comment.

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The town initially sought bids in December for the project that required the installation of new gasoline and diesel tanks to replace a previous fueling station at Baldwin Park, which houses the park department's administrative offices and serves as storage for town highway department vehicles. The town then rejected bids in March and re-advertised for bids with a mandatory requirement to be in a plumbing apprenticeship program.

In the second round of bidding, Aventura was the lowest bidder, but the town rejected Aventura's, saying its participation in an apprenticeship program for operating engineers did not meet town requirements. The town awarded the project to Island, the second-lowest bidder. "You have the ability to pursue other legal avenues," Supervisor Kate Murray told DeMeyer at the July 9 board meeting, where the board voted 6-0 to accept Island's bid. "In our opinion, your apprenticeship program . . . is not up to the bid specifications and so we are going forward with the designated bidder."

DeMeyer argued that labor law requires that apprenticeship programs be appropriate for the type of work performed. There is no apprenticeship program for pump and tank installation, which is different from a plumber program, he said.

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"Plumbing has nothing to do with pump and tank," said DeMeyer, adding plumbers install piping for hot and cold water, while pump and tank mechanics install transportation fuel tanks. "They are clearly two separate trades."

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