Kearny axes company responsible for replacing lead water lines

Kearny is ending a contract with a Bergen County firm it hired last fall to undertake the first phase of replacing lead service lines that transmit water to local households.

Dissatisfied with the pace of work, Mayor Alberto Santos and the Town Council voted unanimously March 28 to send a notice of termination to ConQuest Construction, of Hackensack.  At the same time, they authorized re-bidding for a new contractor. And they gave ConQuest a two-week period to secure sites that may still have open pits and/or settlements.

Because the current contract is being discontinued for what the town is characterizing as “non-performance,” the company will be disqualified from bidding on any similar contracts in future, town attorney James Bruno advised the governing body.

In late October, ConQuest — lowest of seven bidders — was hired to install new pipes where needed and to repave excavated streets for $5.34 million.  The town issued bonds to cover the costs, supplemented by state road aid.

The state has mandated all municipalities to complete replacement of lead service lines (or laterals) that deliver water from the main in the street to individual homes, by July 2031.

David Silva, a project manager with Neglia Engineering, informed the governing body, beginning in December, ConQuest work crews began digging test pits outside 529 homes in the Phase 1 project area to expose and examine household water laterals to determine which needed to be replaced.

To date, Silva said, the contractor has completed 458 test pits and identified 366 locations where lead line replacements “need to occur.”  Thus far, he said, 100 lines have been replaced.

Silva said the contract called for all water infrastructure work to be finished within 90 days, at the rate of 10 lead line replacements per day.  The end date for that work expired March 27, he said.

Since the project began, Silva said, the contract has been averaging “three to five” work crews per day.

Santos said it appears that the contractor “just can’t assemble the crews (needed) to get the work done.”  And, the mayor added, given how slowly the work has gone, it’s likely that the road paving on streets getting new service lines, expected to happen this year, will likely have to be shelved.

The situation is unfair to town residents, Third Ward Councilwoman Eileen Eckel said, because they relied on the town’s assurances there would only be temporary inconveniences while the contractor dug up their streets and replaced lateral service lines.

Eckel called for the town to dismiss the contractor and rebid the job in the hope that the anticipated road improvements funded by the state can still be done this summer.

“We’ve given (the contractor) ample time to rev it up,” Eckel said, but, based on the company’s performance thus far, she added, “there’s no reason to believe they’ll improve.”

For the re-bid, Santos said the town will probably be facing increased costs on all phases of the project but, “(it’s) best to take our losses and bid anew.”

Efforts to reach ConQuest for comment were unsuccessful.

On other local infrastructure fronts, meanwhile, Silva said a control panel needed to finish long-awaited improvements to the Harrison Avenue pump station was expected to be shipped from the manufacturer April 17 and reach the contractor by month’s end. Then, he said, it should take “four to six weeks” to complete electrical work before the upgraded pump can be activated to help relieve flooding in the area.

And, Silva said, the contractor working on upgrades to the DDTH pump station serving Duke Street, Devon Terrace, Tappan Street and Hoyt Street, east of Schuyler Avenue, recently submitted a plan to remediate settlement in the area surrounding the site. That plan is now “under review”by Neglia engineers, he said.  In the meantime, that project remains stalled.

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Ron Leir | For The Observer

Ron Leir has been a newspaperman since the late ’60s, starting his career with The Jersey Journal, having served as a summer reporter during college. He became a full-time scribe in February 1972, working mostly as a general assignment reporter in all areas except sports, including a 3-year stint as an assistant editor for entertainment, features, religion, etc.

He retired from the JJ in May 2009 and came to The Observer shortly thereafter.

He is also a part-time actor, mostly on stage, having worked most recently with the Kearny-based WHATCo. and plays Sunday softball in Central Park, New York