Town should pause un­der­ground­ing

Palm Beach Daily News - - OPINION - By HAR­RIS S. FRIED

In ref­er­ence to the Sept. 9-12, 2018, ar­ti­cle by Wil­liam Kelly, the lan­guage that caught my at­ten­tion was the “es­ca­lat­ing cost” of the un­der­ground­ing project. What he was re­fer­ring to is the $2 mil­lion gap be­tween the guar­an­teed max­i­mum price from Whit­ing-Turner and the es­ti­mate from town en­gi­neers.

This rep­re­sents a 42.5 per­cent in­crease for work on the south­ern half of Phase 2. There are eight phases, each with a north and south com­po­nent. If we pro­ceed on this course, th­ese type of ne­go­ti­a­tions will have to oc­cur another 12 times over the next four to five years.

Un­for­tu­nately, we find our­selves in a per­fect storm with la­bor and ma­te­rial costs ris­ing along­side in­fla­tion and in­ter­est rates.

We are at the mercy of mar­kets we can’t con­trol and of con­trac­tors with more work than they can han­dle.

Even the most adamant pro­po­nent of un­der­ground­ing should see that we must pause to as­sess what is hap­pen­ing be­fore this project, ill-con­ceived from day one, goes off the rails.

My sug­ges­tion is sim­ple: Stop the work on un­der­ground­ing tem­po­rar­ily (and, yes, it can be done) to as­sess its ef­fi­cacy.

The Town Coun­cil should con­vene a panel of ex­perts to de­ter­mine if what we are do­ing is sus­tain­able.

FPL of­fi­cials are crit­i­cal to any dis­cus­sion and so­lu­tion. They should be our part­ners if the de­ci­sion is made to pro­ceed. They should also con­trib­ute to the cost.

In ad­di­tion to the ex­tra­or­di­nary dis­rup­tion that will oc­cur as this project moves to­ward Mid­town, it is now clear that the man­agers of this project have no idea of what the fi­nal costs will be, much less how to con­trol them.

What also de­serves your at­ten­tion is the cri­sis in the Po­lice De­part­ment.

Thir­teen of­fi­cers have left in the past year, in ad­di­tion to the large ex­o­dus of our best and bright­est af­ter the 2012 pen­sion de­ba­cle. And don’t for­get the $100 mil­lion dol­lar short­fall in the pen­sion plan.

We can­not and should not — given the ex­po­sure the town faces re­gard­ing the pen­sion short­fall and enor­mous costs of shore pro­tec­tion — en­gage in another mas­sive project with a cost that will be in the range of a cou­ple of hun­dred mil­lion dol­lars if we are lucky!

Even the af­flu­ent will tire of throw­ing money into a black hole.

The coun­cil, de­spite no­tions of how well things are go­ing, needs to take a hard look at what is re­ally hap­pen­ing.

The idea of ap­por­tion­ing huge amounts of money to un­der­ground­ing when the ranks of our po­lice de­part­ment are be­ing dec­i­mated seems to be based on, to me, a dis­torted view of what’s es­sen­tial and what is not. For the mayor to say that we are be­com­ing a “train­ing ground” should give you some idea of the grav­ity of the situation.

Make no mis­take here, the Town Coun­cil (not the town staff, our long list of ad­vis­ers and con­sul­tants, the so-called Cit­i­zens Over­sight Com­mit­tee) owns un­der­ground­ing and they are go­ing to have to fix it one way or another.


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