For Bronx Water Plant Being Built 10 Stories Down, a Towering Price Tag
In a city of big projects, it ranks among the biggest. New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection is building one of the largest water filtration plants in the world in a 10-story-deep hole it blasted out of bedrock in the Bronx. When completed in 2012, the plant, capable of purifying 300 million gallons of water a day, will be buried there.
But the plant, which will filter water from the Croton watershed in Westchester County, is no Bronx treasure chest. Even as construction moves forward, questions about soaring costs and delays continue to plague the project.
The cost is now estimated at nearly $3 billion, a huge jump from the $660 million city officials estimated when they announced an audacious plan in 1998 to build the plant below the surface of Van Cortlandt Park. They vowed that the park would be made as good as new, even if that meant replacing whatever was lost during construction. They now plan to rebuild a driving range on top of the buried plant.
Some officials and others fear the final tab could climb even higher, and in the process push up water rates. On April 1, the city comptroller, William C. Thompson Jr., announced that he was starting an independent audit to determine whether city officials understated the original price, to get the plant built in the Bronx rather than Westchester. Besides scrutinizing the complicated accounting, Mr. Thompson will have to sort through accusations by some residents and officials of deliberate distortions of costs, and intimations that the project has been tainted by mob influence, though nothing has been proved.
His would not be the first effort at monitoring the expenses since work on the big hole began in late 2004. The city’s Independent Budget Office examined the project and came up with a cost estimate last September of $2.8 billion, significantly higher than the Bloomberg administration’s last previous estimate of $2.1 billion. The budget office is now comparing its cost estimate with the city’s earlier projections and is expected to report on it in the next few months.
The city’s Department of Investigation hired a law firm, Stier Anderson L.L.C., last year to monitor the progress of the construction. The law firm is now affiliated with Thacher Associates, a fraud detection company. Keith Schwam, a spokesman for the department, said the firm was keeping track “of various contractors, subcontractors and personnel” at the Bronx site.
While the plant’s opponents concede that it is too late to stop the work in Van Cortlandt Park, they say that shining more light on the project’s financing will reveal whether there was any wrongdoing in the site selection process. Read more..