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Towns in quandary over Christie order on road construction

Delaware Online - July 8, 2017

Cohen Seglias Managing Partner, George Pallas, was quoted in the Delaware Online article, "Towns in quandary over Christie order on road construction."

By: Christopher MaagAAG, The Record

As road construction crews across New Jersey prepared to leave work Friday – with no idea when they might return – local officials, contractors and construction industry attorneys scrambled to respond to Governor Christie’s order to stop most state-funded construction projects by 11:59 p.m.

Some local officials plan to openly defy the governor, saying work will go on in their towns.

Late on Friday, Christie warned against any such action.

"With the TTF solution stalled in the Senate, it is absolutely necessary that the remaining TTF funds be used solely for essential projects,” according to a statement from the governor’s office. “Any municipality and/or contractor who works in defiance of the shutdown order assumes all associated risks.”

Joe Tempesta, the mayor of West Caldwell and president of the League of Municipalities, countered that towns are within their rights to defend their taxpayers from contractors’ lawsuits.

“The legality isn’t an issue,” Tempesta said. “If it’s been awarded to a bidder and the project is underway, to stop the work would put the municipality in harm’s way because that contractor could sue the town and state for breach of contract. What other choice do you have?”

The failure by Christie, a Republican, and the Democrats who control the Legislature to increase the gas tax before the end of the fiscal year on June 30 leaves the Transportation Trust Fund nearly broke, so the remaining money must be focused on the most important projects, Christie said in his executive order, issued Wednesday

But complying with the order is dizzyingly complex, as local leaders worked quickly to untangle a thicket of legal, financial and safety issues inherent in suspending work on hundreds of projects across the state at the height of the summer construction season.

Many elected leaders and industry experts criticized Christie, saying the governor manufactured the crisis for his own political gain at the expense of construction workers, local governments and taxpayers, who eventually will be forced to pay for the delay.

“It’s a giant mess,” said George Pallas, a construction law expert who does extensive work in New Jersey for the Philadelphia law firm of Cohen Seglias Pallas Greenhall & Furman. “But frankly I think this is just a political ploy” by Christie, Pallas said. Continue Reading...