ISLAMORADA -- The director of Islamorada's wastewater utility department said last week the village will seek reimbursement from sewer contractor Layne should it be proven that fill excavated as part of work on a $106 million contract has been sold by the construction team on the private market.
"Maybe they determined along the way that they don't need some of it and they sold it," Wastewater Program Manager Greg Tindle said about fill from the project during a joint phone interview with Village Manager Maria Aguilar last week. "If that's the case, we'll go after it because we're entitled to the proceeds."
In making those comments, Tindle was referencing a clause in the village's contract with Layne, which states that any proceeds generated by the contractor through the sale of "clean" fill shall be taken off the total price of the project. Layne is also known locally as Reynolds Water Islamorada.
Jim Bellizzi, a resident of the Venetian Shores neighborhood on Plantation Key, raised the issue of whether the village is enforcing its right to reimbursement for fill sales in recent weeks after he personally purchased fill from a third-party hauler for delivery to a property he owns next to the Century 21 building at mile marker 86.
A check image that Bellizzi provided to the Free Press shows that he paid the hauler $1,250 for delivery of 10 loads of fill. On June 26 a Free Press reporter watched as the hauler delivered a load to Bellizzi's property and then headed south to a storage yard that Layne is leasing near mile marker 81 on the Old Highway. There, the truck was refilled, before it proceeded back to Bellizzi's property for another delivery of excavated rock and sand.
Bellizzi says he has purchased more than 30 loads of fill in a similar manner. He is storing the material at his Plantation Key property without the proper permitting, but says he is ready to deal with any action the village brings against him.
"The village could be taking advantage of the proceeds of the sale of this and they're not," he said.
Others who are involved or closely associated with the Upper Keys construction business also say that fill from the village sewer project has been available on the local market. Mark Page of Tavernier-based Page Excavating, for example, said his company has been purchasing fill from one of the project's subcontractors for approximately $250 per load.
Sales of fill materials by contractors are hardly unusual in the construction business, and they're not typically inappropriate either. In fact, said Chris Sante, a local real estate developer who has built numerous projects, contractors often calculate the anticipated proceeds from such sales into their bids, allowing them to bring the project price down.
What sets the Islamorada sewer project apart is the specific contract provision that entitles the village to the proceeds from any fill that can be defined as "clean." It's not clear whether the subcontractors working for Layne would even have been made aware of that provision, though ultimately, the obligations in the sewer deal fall on Layne itself.
There is also no way, at least at this point, to determine how much money the businesses on Layne's team have generated from the apparent sale of fill. Nor is it clear what portion of those proceeds would have come from fill that would be defined as "clean."
In an interview last week, local Layne manager Wes Self said that to his knowledge Layne itself hasn't sold any fill from the village sewer job. In fact, Self said there should be no fill to spare at this point. His team needs whatever it is excavating for upcoming work in Venetian Shores and on Lower Matecumbe Key.
Still, Self acknowledged that Layne's subcontractors could be selling fill to Bellizzi and others. He dismissed the issue as a minor one.
"If Maria wants us to look into it, we certainly can," Self said, referencing village manager Aguilar. "But it's of so little consequence to me that it really isn't worth our time."
Aguilar struck a similar tone when the Free Press first asked her about sales of fill last week. She said the village has focused its oversight attention on the overall $130 million sewer project's big ticket items, such as the purchase of millions of dollars of equipment.
"If someone want to make a stink and say we lost, what, $100,000 by not selling fill, I'd say, 'Yeah, go for it,'" she said. "With all the other responsibilities we have that's a minor concern."
Later in the week though, Aguilar joined the utility department director Tindle on the three-way call in which Tindle said the village would go after any proceeds it is due.