Christie Pledges Sandy Transparency as Award Questioned

Governor Chris Christie said he’s creating a program in the New Jersey comptroller’s office to assure transparency in funding for Hurricane Sandy recovery, as Democrats question the award of a debris-removal contract.

Christie, a Republican seeking re-election, said Democrats are “ill-informed” for calling the job given to Ashbritt Inc. a $100 million “no-bid contract.” The Deerfield Beach, Florida, company was hired by Connecticut in 2008, and New Jersey adopted its contract under a reciprocity agreement that allows one state to piggyback onto another’s deals during emergencies, according to the governor’s office.

State Senate President Stephen Sweeney, the highest-ranking Democratic lawmaker, yesterday questioned why Republican legislators have remained silent on what he called a “giant no-bid contract.” Senator Barbara Buono, a Metuchen Democrat running for governor, called for hearings to find out why “an out-of-state corporation that is overcharging New Jerseyans was selected to do projects that can be done by local workers.”

“I think even Senator Sweeney has now come out publicly and said that he was wrong, that it’s not a no-bid contract, that in fact it was a bid contract,” Christie said today in Union Beach. “He got some bad information.”

Getting Money

Chris Donnelly, a Sweeney spokesman, said he couldn’t immediately comment on Christie’s statement.

That the Ashbritt contract wasn’t subject to bidding “is completely and utterly false,” Jared Moskowitz, general counsel for the company, said by telephone. He said New Jersey “acted properly” when it adopted Connecticut’s model.

“We have no issues with transparency,” he said.

Ashbritt has participated in 30 disaster-recovery operations in 11 states since 1992, according to Christie’s office. Using companies that have such extensive experience is helpful when dealing with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the governor said.

“The risk is, as I said at the time, if you don’t use one of these companies who are experienced with dealing with FEMA paperwork and the FEMA bureaucracy, that if you don’t make your request right, you’re not going to get reimbursed,” he told reporters.

Aid Package

Sandy hit Oct. 29 with hurricane-force winds and flooding that killed more than 125 people in 10 states. It ravaged shore communities from New Jersey’s Atlantic City to Bridgeport, Connecticut. Congress approved a $60.2 billion aid package for rebuilding.

New Jersey retained Ashbritt two days after Sandy to give “local governments what they needed to begin debris-removal and clean-up efforts right away, an essential step in recovery and moving forward after the storm,” Kevin Roberts, a spokesman for Christie, said in an e-mail.

“There’s no overcharging being done here,” Christie said.

Use of Ashbritt wasn’t mandatory, Roberts said. The company is now overseeing 83 subcontractors in New Jersey for cleanup work, and 71 percent of them are in-state companies, according to Christie’s office. The $100 million is a “theoretical ceiling” that may not be reached, Roberts said.

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