I-Team Update: Schumer weighs in on stalled VA project

Posted at: 02/19/2013 8:12 PM
Updated at: 02/19/2013 11:47 PM
By: Brett Davidsen

An I-Team 10 investigation uncovered a stalled stimulus project that is costing you millions of dollars. It's an energy efficient steam plant designed to cut heat costs at the v-a medical center in Canandaigua. But for more than a year, no work has been done on the project.

This project was designed to make the v-a medical center in Canandaigua more heat efficient and save you, the taxpayer, money. So what are you getting for your $15-million investment?
Right now, absolutely nothing.

On the campus of the VA Medical Center in Canandaigua, sits this construction site. The only thing missing is any sign of people doing actual construction. With $15 million of your tax dollars, they're supposed to be building a biomass steam generation plant.

When its done, it will look something like a plant operating now at Lockheed Martin in Owego, New York. Using discarded wood chips and bark to generate steam and provide heat and electricity to the 150 acre VA campus. But I-Team 10 has discovered that the v-a and the contractor are locked in a bitter dispute which has brought work here to a standstill for more than a year.

Beyond the delays, there's the issue of lost savings. This system was supposed to be up and running this heating season and is expected to reduce heating costs here on the campus by roughly a million dollars a year. That's about three thousand dollars lost for every day it sits idle.
News10NBC asked Senator Charles Schumer about the stalled stimulus project.

Sen. Chuck Schumer said, “It's taking forever, and I am urging both sides to just get together, resolve their differences and move along. We need this biomass generator, not just for clean energy , which is a good thing, but to save money at the Canandaigua VA so it can continue its expansion."

For the past three months, I-Team 10 has been trying to get to the bottom of the dispute. We stopped by the construction trailer of the contractor, Whiting-Turner, hoping for some face to face answers.

After digging deeper, I-Team 10 uncovered these legal documents, filed with the U.S. Civilian Board of Contract Appeals. They're formal complaints brought by the contractor against the VA citing "breach of contract."They accuse the VA of "mismanagement", acting in "bad faith"and "overt hostility" toward them. The papers say the VA has ordered changes to the job but rejected the contractor's requests for increased costs.

I-Team 10's Brett Davidsen said, “Shouldn't these design disagreements have been worked out long before they got halfway through the project?”

Schumer said, "Yes. We're trying to find out. Somebody's being very stubborn. It's either the VA or the contractor. I tend to think it's the VA.”
But the VA paints a much different picture. In its response papers, it accuses Whiting-Turner of bait and switch, changing the plans and using inferior materials that were never approved in the contract. In a statement to I-Team 10, VA manager Steve Bolewski said, "The government is prosecuting the contract in accordance with the contract terms and requirements. We will hold the contractor to the contract terms and conditions, and that is what we feel is the basis for the delay."
In the meantime, about the only visible change in recent months at the site is this giant tarp that is now draped over the generator to protect it from the elements.

Ultimately, it could be up to the Appeals Board to determine who's at fault for the delays. In the meantime, I-Team 10 continue to keep an eye on this project which is tying up so many of your tax dollars.