I Team 10 Follow Up: What do you get for $15 million in stimulus money?

Posted at: 03/18/2013 5:45 PM
Updated at: 03/18/2013 6:23 PM
By: Brett Davidsen

We have an I-Team 10 update into a $15 million construction project at the VA Medical Center in Canandaigua that you are paying for.

The project has been delayed for more than a year. And today, Congressman Chris Collins is turning up the heat.

As we first reported last month, the VA in Canandaigua got that money to build a steam generation plant designed to make the campus more heat efficient. This project was supposed to have been finished a year ago. But the VA and the builder are at odds and your money is caught in the middle.

Another month has come and gone, and this construction site remains essentially unchanged. By now, a biomass steam generation plant should have been up and running here.

A $15-million stimulus project, it was designed to use wood chips and bark to provide heat and power to the 150 acre VA campus. But an I-Team 10 investigation uncovered a bitter dispute between the VA and the contractor which has brought work here to a standstill for more than a year.

"These are monies being squandered or lost every day," said Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY 27th), whose district covers the VA.

Our investigation prompted Collins to send a letter to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs a month ago asking about the delays. But today, Collins tells me he has received no response.

"For the life of all of us we cannot figure out what the VA is doing or how they think that by doing nothing and not answering our letters they can just make this go away," he said.  

Each passing day is costing you more money. Because the system should have been up and running this heating season, taxpayers have already lost out on roughly a million dollars in reduced heating costs.

Now Collins says he is ratcheting things up. He has drafted a second letter to Veterans Affairs, with Congressman Richard Hanna, the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Contracting and Workforce. Together they are demanding an explanation for the delays and what the VA is doing to address the causes.

And Collins says he won't put up with the stone-walling any longer.

"If we don't get a response, we will be then holding a hearing. We will call him in to testify at a hearing. This is not something, by and large, that these folks like to do," Collins said.

During our investigation, I-Team 10 uncovered legal documents that spell out the nature of the dispute. They are complaints brought by the contractor, Whiting-Turner, against the VA citing "breach of contract."

They accuse the v-a of "mismanagement" and acting in "bad faith." The papers say the VA has ordered changes to the job but rejected the contractor's requests for increased costs.

In its response, the VA accuses the contractor of changing the plans and using inferior materials that were never approved in the contract.

But Collins says the VA has been unwilling to settle the differences in arbitration.

And in his letter, he also sites nearly a dozen sub-contractors who he claims haven't been paid as a result of the work stoppage.

"It's fairly obvious as we've looked at this issue that the VA is in, what I would call, an indefensible position relative to how they have treated our contractors that have done work in our district, have not been paid."

Collins has given the VA until April 3rd to respond.

We have reached out to both sides of this dispute, but neither has been willing to comment.
In the meantime, we'll continue to track any progress on this project which is tying up so many of your tax dollars.