Democratic lawmakers skewered a Florida debris removal company and Republicans defended it Friday in a politically charged hearing over a major post-Sandy contract that’s become the most debated part of the Christie administration’s reaction to the storm.
The Oct. 29 storm, the most destructive ever to hit New Jersey, caused an estimated $37 billion in damage and killed at least 40 people. Two days later, without taking bids, Republican Gov. Chris Christie had a deal in place with AshBritt Environmental that set prices for debris removal for local governments.
“On its face, it appears to me that the administration went out of its way to give a lucrative no-bid contract to a connected out-of-state firm at double the price,” said state Sen. Barbara Buono, a Democrat from Metuchen and her party’s front-runner for the gubernatorial nomination in this year’s election.
Buono went on to question, sometimes testily, AshBritt founder and CEO Randal Perkins.
Perkins said the price was fair, lower than New Jersey’s towns would have gotten if the state had accepted a contract negotiated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He also said his firm could not have afforded to pay New Jersey-based subcontractors if it had charged lower rates.
State Sen. Joe Kyrillos, a Republican and Christie’s close ally, complained that members of his party were not being called on enough. He interjected, “Are we having a campaign rally?”
Fifty-one New Jersey towns signed on with AshBritt. Perkins said Friday the company has completed debris removal in 45 towns and is nearly done with work in the remaining six.
Perkins objected to complaints that his company received a no-bid contract, maintaining that the contract went through the bidding process in Connecticut.
“The state of New Jersey got the best contractor, a Corps of Engineers contractor, for a discounted price,” Perkins insisted.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency said in an emailed statement that it and the Christie administration had consulted regarding the proposed use of the AshBritt Connecticut contract and agreed the state could proceed with it. It said it’s reviewing the contract, as is normal, and consults with the state regularly.
Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak, who isn’t a regular at committee hearings but was in the gallery, said: “Quote me. It’s a political charade.”