Cranbury Township terminates contract with Tricon Enterprises; dredging of Brainerd Lake delayed

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Chillas
The dredging of Brainerd Lake in Cranbury Township won't occur in 2020. 

Cranbury Township officials have terminated the $3.79 million contract bid from Tricon Enterprises, Inc., effectively delaying the dredging of Brainerd Lake.

Officials indicated that the termination was due to not receiving adequate dewatering (removal and discharge of sediment-laden water) plans for a number of reasons they declined to discuss in detail. The township had not been presented with dewatering plans even after repeated requests for them, officials claimed.

“They did not get it to us in a timely manner. Long story short, they were not able start the dewatering process within a timeframe that would have been able to drop the lake by Nov. 1,” Mayor Matt Scott said. “Unfortunately, we are constrained by when the lake can be lowered. The lake has to be lowered by Nov. 1 and I guess the industry standard is that they can lower it a foot a day.”

Due to New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection regulations, the work for lowering of the lake could only occur from Sept. 15 through Nov. 1.

When the township went out to bid for the lake project, officials received seven bids from various companies to provide the services needed to complete the dredging of Brainerd Lake. The township committee officially awarded Tricon the project at a township committee meeting on July 13.

“It is really unfortunate. We had wanted to get this done. I’ll just broadly say the public bid laws in New Jersey really put a lot of restraints on everyone and we are sure to take the lowest bidder, that is all I can really say,” Scott said. “Our township and engineer and attorneys had been watching this very closely. Tricon was not going to be able to do what we needed in time.”

The township committee, back in February, adopted a bond ordinance that appropriated $4 million for the dredging of the lake. The $4 million in funds will remain in the capital account until the project begins, according to officials.

“This is clearly disappointing. We have been planning for 10 years to dredge the lake and we’re very close to getting it done,” Committeeman James Taylor said. “However, due to legal issues between the contractor and township, the project has been delayed. I cannot go into detail at this time.”

A rebidding process for the project would occur in 2021.

“Everything I think was partially affected by COVID, ’cause our bids went out right as we were about to have a statewide shutdown. I do not see why we could not get this done next year,” Scott said.

According to state law on contracts being awarded, the township or governing body can only award a contract to the lowest responsible bidder (vendor). The awarding of the contract through a resolution from the governing body occurs after an advertisement by the township and review of the submitted proposals.

“The constraints and rigor of a state bidding process can limit the selection and leverage a town has on an awarded contractor,” Committeewoman Evelyn Spann said. “I am grateful for the diligence and coordination of our engineer, legal team, and administrator which met and reported out weekly, staying on top of Tricon’s process and (lack of) progress while managing expectations with the company accordingly.”

She stated that every effort was made to assure the success of this project.

“When deadlines were not being met it was time to make some hard decisions. I apologize to any resident planning retaining wall work. This is an unfortunate but very necessary delay,” Spann said. “We have to tighten things up and assure the contractor can meet our expectations. We are dealing with a sensitive water source and we have to be mindful of that.”

This is not the only multimillion dollar terminated or severed contract Tricon Enterprises has faced in recent years. In 2019, Bloomfield Township terminated its contract with Tricon to build the township’s $13.3 million Lion Gate Municipal Complex, after the project fell significantly behind schedule, according to a township municipal press release in 2019.

“This is one more disappointment in a long year of disappointments for everyone. We felt we had a good plan going forward,” Scott said. “I know the property owners on the lake are going to be possibly disrupted by the fact their construction projects might be affected by this. Again, I just want to apologize. We tried to get this done the right way and the timing was such that we were very close to the wire, so that is why we had kind of late notice.”