In abrupt and dramatic fashion, Islamorada Mayor Michael Reckwerdt on Thursday proclaimed invalid a $94.5 million sewer contract with Veolia Water North America and the engineering firm AECOM.
Differences between the contract signed by Reckwerdt on June 19 and the one the village received from Veolia/AECOM six days later with the signature of their representative, David Herer, was the reason cited by Reckwerdt and other council members for the rapid change of heart.
"Hell will freeze over before I will contract with you," Reckwerdt said at the meeting, addressing a Veolia/AECOM representative in the crowd. "Never. Ever. Ever."
Moments later, AECOM's Norm Anderson, who was expecting to be his company's manager of the Islamorada sewer project, said he neither knew what was coming nor what had precipitated the blow-up.
Other council members, however, stood behind Reckwerdt in interviews Thursday.
"They were told not to change the content," said Councilman Don Achenberg, who had been a consistent supporter of contracting with Veolia/AECOM.
The council's move throws into limbo the status of that contract just two months before a state mandated deadline for the village to have a sewer deal locked up. Failure to do so will cost Islamorada the $20 million grant the Legislature awarded the town this year.
So far the Village Council has not formally revoked its June 5 resolution approving the terms of the Veolia/AECOM contract, though the matter is likely to be taken up at a special meeting the council has called for Thursday. Even if they do, Veolia and AECOM could argue, potentially in court, that the parties have an executed contract.
Company representatives did not respond to Citizen inquiries Friday.
Meanwhile, confusion over the village's abrupt departure in plans is more than just procedural.
For example, during a break in the meeting Thursday, Councilman Ted Blackburn called the news that there were changes made to the contract "unbelievable."
"I'm shell-shocked. It's a trust thing," he said.
But by midday Friday, Blackburn had joined Councilman Dave Purdo in asking for an emergency meeting to vet the matter more thoroughly.
In an angry exchange with Reckwerdt at that meeting just a few hours later, both he and Purdo said they didn't know the specifics of what had led Reckwerdt to take such a strong position against Veolia/AECOM.
Neither village staff members nor village attorney Nina Boniske, they said, had made them privy to all the information Reckwerdt appeared to have.
"I still don't know what was done, what was said," Purdo said. "I don't even know. I want answers."
But no answer, other than the most general, was forthcoming at the meeting from either the mayor or anyone on the village staff.
"I made it painfully clear. Two big stacks of paper, the one I signed. The one they returned. That they're different," Reckwerdt lectured testily. Saying any more, he explained repeatedly, could work against the village should Veolia/AECOM file a breach-of-contract lawsuit.
The village's relative silence aside, at least some of the discrepancies between the June 19 and June 25 contracts had to do with an appendix dealing with insurance requirements.
In several cases, the language or terms of the appendix in the contract signed only by Reckwerdt differed from the language or terms in the contract that also has Herer's signature.
In one case, for example, the earlier version of the contract called for an insurance policy requiring that the village be notified within 45 days in case of a cancellation of the policy, which would be held by Veolia/AECOM.
If the policy were to be canceled due to nonpayment by the contractor, the village would receive 30 days' notice.
The later version of the contract, signed by both parties, extends the general notification requirement to 60 days, but reduces the required notice to the village to just 10 days in case of the policy being canceled due to nonpayment.
In another discrepancy, the June 19 version of the appendix calls for the contractor, its financial guarantors and any of company's affiliates to be included in the insurance policies. The June 25 version, however, removes reference to the affiliates.
In addition to deciding whether it will formally revoke its support of the Veolia/AECOM contract, the council plans to discuss other alternate routes to push ahead with the sewer system when it meets on Thursday.