Gabrielsen says town was prepared for field cost overruns

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The EPCAL ball fields have been in the works for over eight years.
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The EPCAL ball fields have been in the works for over eight years.

Work on Riverhead Town’s new baseball and softball fields in Calverton is over budget by about $140,000, according to Supervisor Sean Walter, who disclosed that information during a weekly interview on WRIV 1390 radio Friday morning.

And within a half-hour of Mr. Walter’s radio appearance, Anthony Coates, a one-time Walter adviser and campaign manager who is seeking to run for town councilman on the Republican line this fall, issued a press release criticizing the “all Republican” Town Board for the cost overrun.

But Councilman George Gabrielsen, the Town Board liaison on recreation issues, says the town’s recreation advisory committee knew about the issue and has allocated money to address the overruns.

That money will not come from town taxpayers, but from developer fees earmarked for recreation, he said.

Mr. Walter said he discovered “over the last two weeks or so” that the  final part of the fields project, which has been in the works for more than eight years, is “about $140,000 or so” over budget.

“I’m not sure who authorized the spending,” he said, adding that the Town Board requires change orders in any contracts to be approved by a Town Board resolution.

The supervisor said the whole sprinkler system had to be ripped out and redone on the job and that the town is negotiating with the contractor, whom he said did work without formal Town Board authorization.

Mr. Coates’ press release stated, “The utter incompetence in dealing with the EPCAL ball fields is a shining example of why this Town Board has got to go. The board’s complete inattention to detail and poor financial mismanagement is unacceptable and is exactly why I am running for the Town Board.”

The Town Board awarded a $390,780 contract to the Landtek Group of Amityville in May 2012 to build the bullpens, dugouts, clay infields and line fencing at the ballfields.

When that work on the fields was done, it was discovered the sprinklers and irrigation that were installed about five years ago were all “messed up,” Mr. Gabrielsen said.

“There were sprinkler heads broken, pipes in the wrong spot and some of them may have been broke during the construction,” Mr. Gabrielsen said. “It’s a big deal about nothing.”

The town’s recreation advisory committee — which recommends uses for recreation fees paid by developers building in the town — had expected the final project would be over budget, and recommended putting aside additional money to deal with it, Mr. Gabrielsen said.

There is $213,000 available, he said.

“We anticipated it, money is set aside, and it’s not taxpayer money,” he said. “The one wrinkle is that maybe the engineering and recreation departments should have kept updating us on this.”

“Why give him the time of day?” Councilman James Wooten said of Mr. Coates and his press releases, of which he had issued three in nine days.

Mr. Wooten reiterated Mr. Gabrielsen’s point that the advisory committee had anticipated the problem and had reserve funds from the recreation fees set aside for it.

“If he thinks it’s mismanagement, who signs the checks?” Mr. Wooten asked, alluding to the fact that supervisor is the town’s head financial officer, and Mr. Walter and Mr. Coates have supported each other’s candidacies.

Mr. Coates’ press release did not blame any specific member of the all-Republican Town Board.

Mr. Walter and council members John Dunleavy and Jodi Giglio are up for re-election this fall, and Mr. Coates has announced his plans to seek a Republican council seat. He has stated that he supports Mr. Dunleavy and has criticized Ms. Giglio.

Ms. Giglio had similar comments as Mr. Wooten.

“The supervisor is the chief financial officer of the town, and signs off on all the checks to the contractors,” she said. “And if we’re over budget, I want to know about it. In the meantime, I would like a full accounting on what the cost is, to complete the ball fields.”

She said the first time she heard about the overrun was when WRIV’s Bruce Tria asked her about it on the air Wednesday, during her spot on his morning Dawn Patrol show. That was two days before the host asked the same question of Mr. Walter during Friday’s show.

Of Mr. Coates’ press release, Ms. Giglio said. “This is collusion at its worst, where the supervisor’s campaign manager who’s also running for office says ‘God bless you’ before the supervisor even sneezes.”

She said Mr. Coates vowed to run for office after she voted against a proposal to create a $65,000-per-year job for him as a legislative secretary in March 2012.

Mr. Walter had said the job was a one-year job and that would have involved lobbying in Albany on EPCAL issues.

The long-planned park, located at the Enterprise Park at Calverton off Route 25, is expected to finally open in April, Mr. Gabrielsen has said, though the councilman said it was expected to open last spring as well.

It had been delayed for many years by requirements from both the county health department and the state transportation department.

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