Prevailing Wage Rule May Limit Sidewalk Extension to Hartford Avenue

OLD LYME — There is a chance that prevailing wage requirements could significantly raise the cost of the Sound View sidewalks project if the state interprets the application as a renovation rather than as new construction.

Public works projects must comply with state prevailing wage laws if they are classified as new construction and cost at least $1 million or as renovations and cost at least $100,000

“This is new construction, in my opinion. I think this is a situation where the regulations haven’t caught up with the evolution of projects. I think we’re not necessarily in a gray area, rather it’s a matter of regulatory interpretation,” said Kurt Prochoreno, an engineer and principal at BSC Engineering, the firm that is designing the sidewalks along the upper portion of Hartford and an adjacent stretch of Shore Road. 

At Tuesday’s Community Connectivity Grant Committee, First Selectman Timothy Griswold asked Prochoreno how the matter was debatable when it was clear the sidewalks would be constructed where there are now none. 

“The person I spoke with said generally or always that when they have a sidewalk project if the new sidewalk connects with an old sidewalk, even if you don’t touch any of the old sidewalk, they consider that to be rehab repair maintenance, subject to the lower cap,” said Town Attorney Michael Carey. 

Though he agreed with Griswold, Prochoreno advised the committee to proceed with caution given that prevailing wages can drive construction costs up by 30 to 40 percent. 

If we forge ahead and make the assumption that it is not [prevailing wage], there exists the potential for the Department of Labor to come back and say [its] interpretation is that it is prevailing wage and then we’re in a pickle,” he said. 

In 2018 the town received a $400,000 Community Connectivity Grant for the construction costs for “Sound View Gateway,” which included “sidewalks, signage, reduce curb radii and beautification on Hartford Avenue and Shore Road.” When bids for the sidewalks on Hartford Ave. came in below $400,000, the town decided to add sidewalks along a stretch of Shore Road to use the full amount of the grant. That required the town to approve an additional $10,000 for the design of the sidewalks on Shore Road. 

“The Department of Labor has not said anything to me one way or the other about whether prevailing wage will apply here. The person I spoke with said generally or always that when they have a sidewalk project if the new sidewalk connects with an old sidewalk, even if you don’t touch any of the old sidewalk, they consider that to be rehab repair maintenance, subject to the lower cap,” Town Attorney Michael Carey, of Suisman Shapiro Attorneys at Law, told the committee. 

Carey said that a memo he wrote to the Department of Labor could be reworded to emphasize that the Sound View sidewalks do not connect with any existing sidewalks. 

The curbing will be the only component that will be reconfigured, said Mary Jo Nosal, chair and secretary of the committee

Prochoreno said the curbing is a very small percentage of the project total. 

Nosal said she had spoken with Griswold and committee member Frank Pappalardo about what parts of Shore Road to prioritize if the $400,000 would not cover the entire project.  

Pappalardo said the first priority would be sidewalks on Shore Road going west from Hartford Avenue to Cross Lane. The second priority would be from Hartford Ave. to the police station. 

“Before we go to the Board of Finance for an informal discussion, let’s see what would get covered and get a sense of what we’d need to ask for. It’s very easy for this to get politicized in this environment,” Lampos said. “I’d rather scale back the project and keep within the grant than go before the town and ask for more money.”

Jim Lampos, committee member, said he was in favor of limiting the work to Hartford Avenue rather than creating partial sidewalks on Shore Road. 

“Hartford Ave. to Cross Lane may blow the budget. If that gets broken out, I’m concerned about a sidewalk to nowhere,” Lampos said. “I’d rather have amenities on Hartford than have a portion of Hartford to Cross Lane built.” 

Lampos said that he was against requesting money from the town for the project. Any amount over $20,000 would require approval at a town meeting. 

“Before we go to the Board of Finance for an informal discussion, let’s see what would get covered and get a sense of what we’d need to ask for. It’s very easy for this to get politicized in this environment,” Lampos said. “I’d rather scale back the project and keep within the grant than go before the town and ask for more money.”

The committee moved to allow Carey to rewrite the memo to the Department of Labor and to obtain a ruling on the prevailing wage issue. 

Griswold said the town should push hard to establish its position. 

“We don’t want to contradict them, but we should argue,” he said.

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