The Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA), already under attack for conflicts of interest and excessive spending on non-bridge projects, ignited another controversy yesterday by awarding a contract to a union construction firm, reversing an earlier recommendation of its Operations Committee. Despite repeated questions, the Authority refused to explain its decision.
John D. Lawrence, Inc., of Westville, NJ, a union construction firm, was awarded a multimillion dollar contract to retrofit the Authority’s headquarters. C & C Construction Management, a Philadelphia firm that utilizes both non-union and union labor, had been recommended last month by the DRPA’s Operations and Maintenance Committee. Authority CEO John Matheussen repeatedly declined to specify why C & C lost the project.
The full Authority board approves all committee resolutions, and only New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine has the power to veto DRPA decisions.
The project was offered for bid last October, and at the board meeting last month, the Operations Committee proposed that C & C Construction be awarded the contract.
The C & C bid was $1,875,000, which was $63,700 lower than Lawrence’s offer .
At a press conference after the board meeting, Mr. Matheussen was questioned why the board rejected the recommendation of the Operations Committee.
Matheussen responded that, "The committee came back to the full board today and determined that the (John) Lawrence company was the lowest qualified bidder, and not C & C construction," he said.
Asked if could explain the change, Mr. Matheussen replied, "No, I can not. Suffice it to say, they (Lawrence) are the lowest qualified bidder. After examining what we had done last month, we found that C & C Construction did not in fact meet that criteria. They were not the lowest qualified bidder."
Pressed as to what specific criteria C & C failed to meet, Mr. Matheussen declined to answer, stating only, "Those are contract negotiations, and I really can’t get into that."
Contacted at his office after the board meeting, Vincent Celenza, President of C & C Construction, was surprised to learn that his firm had lost the project.
"We have worked on this bid since last November, and thought we were awarded the project based on the Operations and Maintenance Committee’s recommendation of our firm last month," he said. "The Board’s decision is extremely disappointing."
Mr. Celenza wondered what criteria his company failed to meet. "How we are not ‘qualified’ remains a mystery to us," he stated. "As of today, we have not been contacted by the DRPA about this latest decision. We will need to confirm and evaluate this decision, and then review our options."
A call to the Lawrence Construction company revealed that the firm is "all union," utilizing carpenters, cement mixers and laborers.
The Port Authority’s board has strong union representation.
Of the Board’s New Jersey Commissioners, Vincent J. DeVito is the president of United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1245, Frank DiAntonio is President and Business Manager of Construction and Laborers Local 172, and Albert F. Frattali is Business Manager, Financial Secretary and Treasurer of Reinforced Iron Workers Local 405.
On the Pennsylvania side, John Dougherty is the Business Manager of I.B.E.W. Local 98.
A board spokesman stated that there was no conflict of interest with significant union representation on the board, and that the contract awarded to Lawrence Construction had nothing to do with unions.
Chris Freind can be reached at [email protected]