Odd Math Jacks Up Sandy Tab

WOODLAND PARK, N.J. (AP) -

After superstorm Sandy struck, mountains of rubble were collected and taken to temporary storage sites. In Ocean County, those locations included a parking lot in Ortley Beach, a ball field in Bay Head, a recycling center in Berkeley. From there, trucks hauled it all to the county landfill in Manchester.

The distances of those trips varied. But on bills submitted by the debris removal firm, they had something in common: They were all recorded as being just over or, in some cases, exactly 16 miles.

Coincidence? Doubtful.

Under the state’s contract with the cleanup firm, AshBritt Inc., 16 miles is a key distance — it’s when the cost of the haul goes up by 30 percent. In Ocean County alone, the additional, and potentially unwarranted, payouts totaled more than $500,000.

The Record found hundreds of instances in which truckers working under AshBritt claimed the higher mileage, even though the most direct route from debris sites to the landfill weigh station — as measured by Google Maps and The Record’s own driving of the routes — was less than 16 miles.

Complicating the issue is the fact that the monitoring firms appear to have used slightly different methods for calculating distance.

One firm, Arcadis, said it considered a weigh station less than a mile inside the Ocean County Landfill — the same spot used in The Record’s analysis — to be the official endpoint of hauls to that location. Another, the Louis Berger Group, said it gave drivers credit for mileage they drove inside the landfill, after that point. AshBritt’s contract with the state does not define the trip endpoint.

“We get paid off their calculation,” an AshBritt spokesman, Jared Moskowitz, said of the monitors. “If you challenge the calculations, go challenge them.”

Drivers could take whatever route they wanted, Moskowitz said, “but the shortest drivable distance between the loading point to the offload point is the mileage.”

In the hours after Sandy struck, the Christie administration awarded the emergency cleanup job to AshBritt, which hired dozens of subcontractors, including one owned by AshBritt’s chief executive, to do the bulk of the cleanup work. Opting for speed, New Jersey adopted a contract the firm had already negotiated with Connecticut, which included tiered pricing for hauling.