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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Sandy cleanup contract should have generated lawmaker questions

A Nassau legislative committee Monday voted to amend a contract to pay for work that the vendor had finished a year and a half ago.

During the session, a public works department representative talked about how the fiscally stressed county already had been reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the additional cost of the work.

And about how the expanded project — which involved removing sunken boats and debris from South Shore waters after Superstorm Sandy — had been monitored by an independent contractor with the county.

So now we know what everyone else was doing.

But what about Nassau?

Who approved the additional work for the vendor, VIP Splash Waterways Recovery Group of Island Park, which ended up costing $386,642 beyond an initial $12.2 million contract? The original agreement is the focus of federal and county criminal investigations.

And why did it take 18 months for the amended contract to make its way to a public hearing and a vote by lawmakers?

As Newsday’s Paul LaRocco has reported, Rob Walker, County Executive Edward Mangano’s chief deputy, finalized the county’s initial pact with VIP Splash on the same day in 2014 that the firm contributed $2,925 to the Hicksville Republican Committee — which Walker runs.

In addition, VIP Splash incorporated as a company just two days before Nassau first solicited bids for waterway debris removal. The company ended up winning the contract over more experienced bidders.

Walker, in testimony in the corruption trial of former State Sen. Dean Skelos in December, acknowledged that federal prosecutors were investigating him for awarding contracts to political contributors. He has denied wrongdoing, and has not been charged with any crime.

Still, since the initial contract is attracting the attention of federal and county prosecutors, members of the Republican-led Rules Committee might have been expected Monday to have had questions about the amendment.

Brian Schneider, of the county’s department of public works, said it would have taken six months to get an amended contract through. But that wouldn’t have been so, had the Mangano administration moved the measure to lawmakers as an emergency amendment.

He said the county also needed to wait for FEMA reimbursement so that Nassau, in turn, could pay VIP Splash. But the county has approved numerous storm-cleanup contracts that were reimbursed later.

No legislator challenged Schneider’s statements.

Democrats did raise questions about moving forward while the investigations were proceeding.

But in the end, lawmakers voted 4-3 along party lines to pass the contract.

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