Princeton Council does not terminate sewer contract

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Princeton Council, which had sought to void its contract with Integrated Construction and Utilities of New Jersey for sewer line repairs on Linden Lane and Spruce Street, has reconsidered and will allow the work to proceed.

ICUNJ, which had been accused by the town of illegally dumping hazardous material and other solid waste at the Princeton Sewer Operating Committee site on River Road, sued Princeton in response to the town’s termination of its $2.7 million contract for the Linden Lane and Spruce Street project.

At its Aug. 5 meeting, Princeton Council voted to authorize the town’s attorneys to sign and file a consent order in Mercer County Superior Court indicating that the town would allow ICUNJ to go ahead with the contract – provided ICUNJ dismisses its lawsuit against the town with prejudice (which means it cannot go back to court and sue the town again) and without costs or fees.

“The work on Linden Lane and Spruce Street is urgently needed, and because Princeton is receiving grant funding for this project, we risk our ability to obtain high grant scores in the future if we don’t proceed in a timely fashion,” Mayor Liz Lempert said.

Therefore, it is in the town’s best interests not to terminate the contract, Mayor Lempert said. It is the only option available to the town to ensure that the project is completed and grant money is retained, and that future grant applications are not jeopardized, she said.

“We will aggressively oversee ICUNJ to make sure it performs the work 100 percent in accordance with the requirements of the contract and in full compliance with state and federal law,” Mayor Lempert said.

ICUNJ filed the lawsuit June 28, after it was notified by Princeton Administrator Marc Dashield on June 12 that the town was terminating its contract with the company. The town alleged that ICUNJ had been illegally dumping hazardous materials and other solid waste at the River Road site.

The Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office has been investigating allegations of improper dumping and improper use of town equipment and staff at the request of Princeton officials, according to Planet Princeton. Three municipal employees, including the director of Infrastructure and Operations, have been fired.

An inspection of the site – in response to reports of illegal dumping – revealed violations of environmental regulations, according to Planet Princeton.

The town received a notice from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection on June 11 that material had been disposed of at the River Road site without proper approvals.

In its June 28 lawsuit, ICUNJ countered that it has worked for Princeton since 2008 and had been awarded 10 contracts to replace sewer lines. In each case, at the direction of town officials, the company bagged the material – some of which contained asbestos – and put it in a dumpster at the River Road site to be removed later.

The company also announced that Princeton Council could not rescind the Linden Lane and Spruce Street contract because it had not yet started the project and thus could not have violated a section of the contract cited by the town as grounds for terminating the contract.

The section on which Princeton relied stated that it shall be considered a “default by the contractor….whenever he shall persistently disregard laws, ordinances or rules, regulations or orders of a public authority having jurisdiction.”

ICUNJ responded that “termination for this reason is particularly inappropriate since the language relied upon pertains specifically to this contract which ICUNJ has not even started and all of ICUNJ’s actions prior to this project were done at the express authorization of Princeton (officials).”

“Everything performed by ICUNJ at the PSOC River Road site during the past decade was at all times directed by Princeton employees and ICUNJ has never been cited for having disregarded any laws or ordinances,” the lawsuit said.