“A Rockland County Legislature investigative panel has started digging into the county Sewer District’s management of projects that have cost taxpayers millions of dollars.
The panel meeting Monday has obtained mounds of documents from Rockland Sewer District 1, including the Western Ramapo Sewer Extension project that has ballooned from a starting cost of $72 million to $181 million and is plagued by lawsuits.
The panel’s overall goal is to determine what mistakes occurred, offer suggestions on approving the administration or making changes, and making referrals, if necessary, to law enforcement for further investigation.
One committee member, Legislator Christopher Carey, R-Bardonia, said Friday he’s pressing the panel to hire an independent forensic auditor to delve into the district’s finances and projects. District officials hired an auditor for $100,000, Carey said, but he wants an auditor unaffiliated with the district.
“I am not suggesting things were done illegally,” Carey said. “I have some grave concerns about decisions made there. I want an outside company to come in. We’re going to dig in to find out if mistakes were made or if there was something deeper.”
A few months ago, the Legislature created the Committee Investigating the Financial Practices of the Rockland Sewer District Number 1. The issue was pressed by Carey and Legislator Lon Hofstein, R-New City, another panel member.
The panel will focus on five Sewer District projects:
The $800,000 contract with Ramapo for removal of tainted soil from Hillburn and Sloatsburg. The panel will discuss the project during its 6 p.m. meeting Monday at the county office building, 11 New Hempstead, Road, New City.
$950,000 in damages from pollution discharge into Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, from district pipes in 2014. A judge held the district responsible.
A $16.7 million judgment in 2015 from a lawsuit involving the district’s seizure of property for the sewer extension project,
$70,000 in payments to sewer commissioners for serving. Rockland government challenged the payments and recently won a court decision ordering the officials to repay the district.
A proposal to build a $2.5 million storage facility more for storing Clarkstown police vehicles and equipment than for Sewer District use, a potential violation of district funds.
The district has come under criticism from officials and residents over the years with former Ramapo town Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence in charge as board chairman and leading the various projects. St. Lawrence was forced out of office in May after he was convicted of federal securities fraud.
Most recently, the district was condemned for failing to remove four piles of soil in Hillburn and Sloatsburg. The piles angered residents because the tainted soil was dumped near parks, where children played and people gathered or walked their dogs. The discovery brought FBI scrutiny in 2017.
And the cost of the St. Lawrence-inspired installation of sewers in western Ramapo on the Orange County border has more than doubled over the years. After nearly two decades, an additional $110 million in overrun costs, extensive litigation and mistakes means the cost will top $181 million when completed.”
Read the full text of the Journal News story here.