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Amid Criticism, NJ Quietly Firing 2nd Sandy Contractor

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Christie administration is quietly terminating a contract with a second company involved in a much-criticized program for Sandy victims, WNYC has learned.

Those homeowners who were relying on URS Corporation to supervise the rebuilding of their homes are being notified by state officials this week that the job will be picked up by another company.

"As we note in the letter, this change will have no impact on their assigned housing adviser or their case status," said Richard Constable III, the commissioner for the Department of Community Affairs, which signed the contract, in a statement.

URS signed a contract for about $20 million. But the $600 million Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation program that it helped to run — which provides grants up to $150,000 — has come under fire from those it was intended to serve.

Applications were wrongly rejected, with a nonprofit advocacy group finding that 74 percent of those who appealed an RREM rejection were actually eligible. And at a hearing this week, Sandy victims complained of confusion and a nine-month wait for approved grant money. One man described the process as more stressful than when he was fighting in Afghanistan.

Christie officials have downplayed these problems, and an administration source says performance issues are not why URS's contract is ending 15 months early. A spokeswoman for the Department of Community Affairs described the situation as part of the normal course of business: URS was one of three RREM program managers, and the state decided two were enough to handle the job.

At a hearing this week in which Sandy victims complained about the performance of the RREM program, Constable delivered remarks but didn't mention that URS was no longer acting as a housing adviser. In that sense the situation is reminiscent of HGI (or Hammerman & Gainer), the biggest Sandy contractor, which was secretly fired in December. The termination was uncovered in January by WNYC, but the Christie administration has yet to explain what went wrong or why the company got a $10.5 million settlement.

The URS representative in New Jersey referred questions to the company's spokesperson, who didn't return a call and email for comment. 

UPDATE 2/14: Constable declined a request for an interview from WNYC, but he told the Associated Press"Scaling back means efficiencies to be made and also cost savings to the taxpayers." He said the homeowners assigned to URS will not see any other changes to their status, and that URS will keep the cases of homeowners that are far along in the process.

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Comments [10]

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Apr. 17 2014 10:58 AM
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After half a century satisfying our clients we can guarantee to do the same for you. We take a limited number of jobs and we do not leave a job without the client telling us that he or she is satisfied. We want to make a living, but never at the cost of our honor or reputation.

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Apr. 04 2014 11:16 PM

My sister just got word today (Feb 26) -- after waiting for an approved "start date" to demolish and rebuild her home for the last FOUR MONTHS -- that the contractor who was slated to rebuild her totally destroyed home just backed out of the contract with NJ!
He said he was tired of all the arbitrary rules, regulations and restrictions foisted upon him/his building company by the state, which made their contract unreasonable and impossible to deliver on.
Whether that is an accurate (and justified) excuse, I don't know.
But this comes just a couple weeks after hearing that the SECOND consulting/oversight management company had been "fired" by Chris Christie. That second management company was the one overseeing the building contractor that was to build my sister's home.
So, after jumping through the 10,000 hoops necessary to get approved and lined up for a rebuild, (which took up the first 11.5 months of this now 16 month process!) my sister still has no lot cleared, no home built, and the temporary rental situation she (and her family) is living in now has been stretched to its absolute limit. What is she supposed to do??
By the way, she had homeowner's insurance, she even had FEMA flood insurance, and did not live on the ocean /barrier island ... the money is supposedly all approved and waiting... and now another setback! I'm sure she's not the only one. Christie has botched this BIG TIME!

Feb. 26 2014 03:24 PM
truth for NJ

This company? The one that was involved in the bridge collapse in Minneapolis. I wouldn't want them involved in raising my house. http://www.contractormisconduct.org/index.cfm/1,73,221,html?ContractorID=55

Feb. 16 2014 06:49 PM
Gert from Highlands, NJ from Highlands, NJ

What an incredible waste of money … and here I am, still homeless after Hurricane Sandy. At RREM grant signing on 11/2/13 - where the grant award was $2,700 - and I requested to see underlying documentation … discovered they forgot to include bathroom and kitchen in estimate. But estimate itself was flawed: RREM said they could lift the home for $48,000 and do the remaining work for another $18,500 - less than the insurance company paid for "like repairs" on the home. Are they crazy? But they needed to redo the grant award, that was back in early November 2013 and it's now February 14, 2014. Selling my home at a short sale.

Also denied the NJEDA stronger NJ business grant … and in the same denial letter I'm informed that I can apply to borrow money at 2% interest from banks and organizations that have been given Sandy relief funds. WHY?

Feb. 14 2014 04:39 PM
Ben Hamilton from Fair Haven, NJ

Way to go Matt. Take a look at HGI's proposal (all 138 pages + 75 pages of addenda)
http://nj.gov/comptroller/sandytransparency/contracts/pdf/hammerman_proposal.pdf
Nothing transparent about it. And not even close to fulfilling the terms.

Feb. 14 2014 01:57 PM
Sharon Resnick from United States

People that were paying attention understood the corruption in the Christie administration. It was under reported and ignored by the cowed media and the Kool Aid drinking public. I could never understand why any woman; any Democat, any minority, any working person, would vote for this bullying, inept man. Everything he has done as governor has been for his personal betterment and for those who are wealthy and who can help him with his national goals. I also think that any Democratic mayor that endorsed him should be investigated and voted out.

Feb. 14 2014 10:43 AM

Thanks to WNYC for keeping on top of this story. The people of New Jersey need, and deserve, to have the policies and actions of our state government in the allocation and disbursement of Sandy relief funds fully scrutinized. A lot has happened since Governor Christie walked through the storm ravaged areas alongside the President, seemingly willing to sacrifice his standing with the Republican right for the benefit of the people of New Jersey! Now we have to wonder if our governor's show of cooperation was nothing more than a cynical maneuver to obtain and control federal relief funds to promote himself. At best, the administration's treatment of those deserving of Sandy relief has been flawed and ineffective. At worst, it has been subverted for purely political reasons (e.g., the Belleville housing project). Please keep up the good work!

Feb. 14 2014 09:19 AM
katrina from belamr

another Christie mess. i personally know many people denied help. in the mean time our Governor wastes millions on his cronies and mismanagement. all the time blaming others, like the teachers union. again he says he will not fund the pension system, which he promised he would, making it seem that funding it will take money away from education. NJ hasn't funded the pension since Whitman. all the while the teachers are forced to pay in. year after year. all i know is if i took someones pension money i would be in jail. the politicians use that money for pet projects and pay offs.like the the close to 2 billion promised to build a path train from lower Manhattan to Newark airport so united airlines will fly out of Atlantic city. really? really cant take the guy

Feb. 14 2014 07:51 AM
bil wolfe from Bordentown, NJ

With 2 contractors -contracted to be paid $88 million - now fired, who is doing the work these contractors were hired to do?

What happens to the applications they were reviewing and the money they were managing?

Gross incompetene to fire them this later in the game. Didn't State officials know that money was to being warded to people in need?

How could they not know this?

Feb. 13 2014 10:12 PM

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