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Fire Island Sandy cleanup crews: We haven't been paid

A crane consolidates debris from superstorm Sandy into

A crane consolidates debris from superstorm Sandy into a huge mound at Nickerson Beach, near Long Beach. (Nov. 23, 2012) Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Almost five months after the last piles of storm debris were trucked off Fire Island, a post-Sandy federal government project that was marked by drama and delays still isn't over for some companies.

Some businesses owners who leased equipment to or worked on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Fire Island cleanup say they haven't been paid by the project's prime subcontractor for the services they provided.

"Usually you get paid much quicker than this," said Dave Allan of Chesterfield Associates, a marine construction company with an office in Westhampton Beach, which leased equipment to the project's main subcontractor. "It's outrageous."

Allan said he has been paid $8,000 of the $54,000 he's owed for leasing an off-road truck to Edgewood-based Coastal Environmental Group.

David Koehler, vice president of Farmingdale-based Atlantic Crane, said his company has been paid only $15,000 of the $97,000 it is owed for a crane it rented to Coastal.

Put 'on notice'Both Koehler and Allan said they've written to the contractor's bonding company, Fidelity and Deposit Company of Maryland, to say they haven't been paid and to put Coastal "on notice with the bonding company."

In part of an email to unpaid vendors and subcontractors last month, Coastal representative Dave Koplitz wrote that due to "extenuating circumstances Coastal finds itself in a position where we are unable to pay down the open balances incurred during the ECC-F1 Debris Removal Project.

"I assure you Coastal is doing everything possible to work with the prime contractors, government agencies, and subcontractors involved to release the funds to allow us to balance your account and others," Koplitz wrote.

In February, after six weeks of delays due to contract protests, the Corps awarded the cleanup job to California-based Environmental Chemical Corp. for $10.1 million. That company then chose Coastal as its main subcontractor.

Multiple reasons for delayCoastal project manager Charlie Smithers said last month there are several reasons for the holdup in payments -- and that Coastal and ECC are awaiting payment from the Corps to resolve some of those issues.

Among them: the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division is investigating whether laborers on the Fire Island job were paid federal prevailing wages, a probe that started in March. Because of that, Smithers said, a chunk of the contract money is being held by the Corps.

"They haven't told us they're going to fine us or not fine us," Smithers said. "I can't sit here and tell you we're going to get every cent back. . . . I guarantee you we probably owe some guy some money, it's just the magnitude of it."

Irv Miljoner, district director of the federal labor department's Wage and Hour Division on Long Island, would not say how much money had been withheld from payment or how many workers were affected. "Our investigations of contractors under the Fire Island projects are not yet concluded, so we cannot provide any further details at this time," Miljoner said in a statement last month.

In March, protests by cleanup workers and labor rights groups erupted outside of Coastal's Central Islip offices because workers claimed they weren't being paid the rate they were told they would make when hired.

Smithers explained then that the discrepancy was caused by wage changes based on federal rules: The jobs were first advertised at a higher wage under a previously awarded contract, but pay rates were lowered when ECC ultimately won the contested contract, because the company is a preapproved contractor for the Corps with a lower prevailing wage scale.

Less trash, less cashAnother payment holdup: When the job was bid, the Corps estimated there were 9,650 tons of debris to remove. In the end, about 5,500 tons were removed, and the job was paid per ton of debris taken off the island and tipped into landfills.

"When the government tells you you're going to move 1,000 tons and you move 500, that would be a problem," Smithers said, adding that ECC and Coastal are filing claims with the Corps to recoup some of that money, which Smithers said is a normal process.

And because of the March 31 deadline to clean up the beach, coupled with weather delays and bid award protests, the job had to be done quicker. As a result, ECC had to hire other subcontractors to do some of the work, Smithers said.

Of the 80 to 100 subcontractors and vendors Coastal hired for the job, 35 to 50 are awaiting some level of payment, he said.

"This was a big project. It was a very challenging project, logistically," Smithers said. "In the end, we will certainly get everything we need to get all the vendors and subs paid."

A Corps spokesman said by email last month that, "Progress payments have been paid to ECC for all invoices submitted to date. . . . Payments are based on reported quantities of debris removed, which may differ than originally estimated in the contract."

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