Greens Harbor project completed — but at a hefty cost

New London — The drainage and park improvement projects at Greens Harbor Beach are completed but have come with a hefty price tag.

The latest estimate presented to the City Council shows the cost has increased from the estimated $1.9 million to a final tally of $5.15 million — a combination of added work to expand the park and unexpected costs related to drainage and associated work under Pequot Avenue.

City administrators have called the project a success, since it enlarges and beautifies the beach and park areas while addressing the historical flooding problems along that stretch of road.

City Councilor Martin Olsen continues to argue the city administration has skirted City Charter provisions that give the council control over the city’s “purse strings.” Olsen, a Republican challenging Mayor Michael Passero in the upcoming election, was already critical of what he characterized as a lack of transparency about the work there.

Finance Director David McBride presented an overview of the project, along with possible funding sources, to the Finance Committee of the City Council on Monday.

The city is using about $2.3 million in funds that were borrowed over the past few years for undefined infrastructure work — things like road, sidewalk and drainage projects — to cover a portion of the Greens Harbor cost overruns but is looking for other sources to make up the rest, McBride said.

The city already has applied for the additional grant funds from the state Department of Housing and plans to talk with the Stormwater Authority for the possibility of more.

The original scope of the project, funded with a $1.48 million federal grant and city commitment of $493,000, was to relocate an outfall pipe away from the beach and improve drainage in the area. The city was approved for funding in 2014.

The city’s Public Works Department managed the project and hired Colonna Concrete in 2018, expanding the scope of work to include a rehab of the park. Costs eventually mushroomed due to the need for additional excavation work and a requirement that a bypass road be constructed to allow traffic to pass through the construction site.

Olsen said Article VIII, Sec. 70, of the city charter, which requires that modifications of contracts need authorization of the City Council, was “grossly abused,” despite an opinion of the city's law director that it was not.

“They’re arguing a bond approved in 2017 and 2018 is being used,” Olsen said. “We didn’t approve a blank check for millions of dollars. We approved a bond that year for roads and sidewalks and an approved list of streets to be getting sidewalks and curbs. The policies and procedures have been bastardized.”

Olsen said his fellow council members, all Democrats, are now “circling the wagons to protect the administration.”

“It’s embarrassing,” Olsen said.

McBride said all funding sources used had been approved but also acknowledged there were lapses in communication with the City Council about project costs and funding sources.

McBride recommended a monthly meeting to be held with the public works director and the council’s liaison to review all capital projects — such as the ongoing high school project. Olsen is the council’s current liaison.

Councilor Tracee Reiser, chairwoman of the Finance Committee, said McBride addressed the pressing questions of the council: why the work was necessary and clarity on funding sources for that work. She said one outcome is likely to be a strengthening of communication between departments' heads and the council.

g.smith@theday.com

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