|Before: Prospect Point, without the Albany pavers.
|After: $4 million dollars later: Pavers and more pavers...
It bears further scrutiny.
The Niagara Falls Reporter has learned that the $4 million Prospect Point improvement plan for Niagara Falls State Park includes as much as $600,000 in overpriced granite stone pavers, profiting a quarry owner who operates out of Albany.
Indeed, the biggest part of the $4 million "improvement" for Prospect Point, the overlook area near the brink of the American Falls, is to replace well-worn paths and pavement with oddly colored blue and dappled granite, at a price per square foot comparable to what it would cost to build a house.
The plan also calls for new railings, landscaping, park benches, and the cutting down of 50-100-year-old trees, replacing them with saplings to make way for more granite pavers.
The Reporter learned that the architect that devised the plan, the LA Group Landscape Architects of Saratoga (near Albany) has ensured that one quarry owner, Champlain Stone, also from Saratoga, will get all the granite business.
Last year, the Prospect Point improvement plan was opened for bids. Catco Inc., Mark Cerrone Inc., and Yarussi Construction were among a number of contractors who bid on the project. The low bid of approximately $4 million was submitted by Scott Lawn Yard.
Contractors knew in advance, however, from looking at the specs, that the granite was to be purchased from one, specific quarry owner, despite New York State Finance Law, 163, that prohibits such sole source bidding.
As one contractor said, referring to the overpriced granite, "Someone is getting a free cottage on the lake for this one." Another contractor said, referring to the high-priced granite, "They're paving the park with gold, and there are pot holes all over the city. What a waste."
According to the specs, the bidding contractors were required to base prices based on the purchase of the granite from Champlain Stone, at a price of around $60 per square foot, far above the market price of $20-$40 for similar quality granite.
The following is an excerpt from the actual spec sheet:
Niagara Falls State Park
PROSPECT POINT & LOWER GROVE IMPROVEMENTS
STONE UNIT PAVERS
A. Provide the following product, or approved equivalent: Manufacturer: Champlain Stone, Phone: 518-744-5275. Address: P O. Box 650, Warrensburg, NY 12885
B. Type 1 Stone Unit Pavers
1. Material Standard: Comply with AS I M C 615.
2. Product: ''Corinthian Granite" Natural Stone Paver Slabs
3. Dimensions - Standard Paver Field:
a. 12"x12"x3" b 12"x24"x3" c. 18"xl8"x3" d 18"x24"x3" e. 24"x24"x3,
4. Dimension -Paver Band
a. Trapezoidal shape sized to fit radial band 24" long x 15" outside width x 14-3/8" inside width x 3" thick
5. Texture-Finish Sawn and thermaled top surface, sawn only edges all around, sawn only bottom surface.
6. Characteristics: Full color range from manufacturer's quarry 70% Hudson River blue with a mixture of green, black, pink, brown, burgundy, and white. A small percentage shall have black speckles throughout consisting of red and black garnet inclusions and quartz crystals.
7. Paving Pattern - Standard Paver Field: Random pattern using the five sizes of pavers indicated See Contract Documents for the paver template and random partem of unit pavers that shall be utilized as a guide for the paver installation. The paver partem as UNIT PAVING.
While the specs do say the contractor can use an "approved equivalent," the fact is there can be no equivalent.
What the technical jargon means to the contractor is, in the language of architecture, eliminate the competition, and use Champlain Stone, as the sole source for granite.
One of the operative terms, for example, is “70 percent Hudson River blue, etc. …. with red and black garnet inclusions.” This describes a product available only through Champlain Stone.
"It's not like you are buying a blue door," one contractor explained. "This product is only going to be found in the Saratoga area and from that quarry. If you want to change it, you would have to go the architect who is from Saratoga, and get their approval."
Local companies like S.B.Z. & Galle Stone or William Stone have selections of granite that can be purchased at lower prices, and a selection at $20 per square foot appears to be not different, excepting slight shades of color, according to several contractors, than the shades of the granite selected for this project.
A Uni-Lock sales representative offers concrete unity pavers that mimic granite, surpassing it in durability and strength, he said, costing only $10 per square foot.
According to published records, at least one Champlain executive worked for the LA Group prior to coming to Champlain. Sources say the companies have done substantial work together.
All of the individuals who are in charge of the local park "improvement" plan, including the lead man for the state, David Miller, seem to be from the Albany/Saratoga area.
A cozy relationship between architects, project managers, and quarry owners, where the plan is for one quarry owner to profit by a friendly architect drawing specs to make certain that quarry is the sole source for granite, also allows quarries to inflate prices (at taxpayer expense).
It is not unique to the Niagara Falls State Park project.
At the State's Inner Harbor Canalside Phase 3-A contract, specifically-colored granite was required there also. When the contractor, DiPizio Construction, found similar granite that met the contract specifications for substantially less, DiPizio was thrown off the job site by, what appeared at the time, a seemingly capricious project manager named Mark Smith, (who fought for months to make sure a certain quarry in Virginia got all the granite purchases), resulting in a lawsuit that will, after costs and damages, probably cost the taxpayers an additional $12 million for a $19 million job.
State Supreme Court Justice Timothy Walker ruled on November 1st that the granite DiPizio selected legally meets the specifications of the contract.
When Empire State Development Regional president, Sam Hoyt, a newcomer to the litigation, was asked in open court to identify which granite was better, he could not tell them apart and actually chose the granite selected by DiPizio.
The state's preferred granite seller was more than $100 per square foot.