Contractors await pay years after incinerator work

The Harrisburg trash incinerator is entangled in several lawsuits, and while much of the turmoil involves big companies and big law firms, there are little guys – your neighbors – getting hurt when bills don't get paid.

The incinerator has burned through a lot of money and it's burned Jeff Lawrence, who owns a small construction company in Middletown. He did heating, cooling and duct work on the incinerator a few years ago. The work was done on time, Lawrence paid his workers, but he is still waiting for the Harrisburg Authority to pay him.

“People get up and show up for work every day,” Lawrence said. “They're hard working people and I think they deserve to be compensated for the good work that they do, as I would like to be compensated for the good work that I've done on that site.”

Lawrence and a handful of other unpaid contractors are upset that work continues at the incinerator and those workers are now getting paid.

“Why is it OK to go ahead and continue to do new work when the old work that's been completed has not been paid for?” he said. “It's unfair.”

Shannon Williams, the Authority's Executive Director, said current workers are paid from a pot of money called operating expenses. Lawrence and others were to be paid from a $25 million loan backed by Covanta. In fact, the Authority sent a letter to leery contractors that basically stated that they don't need to worry about getting paid.

“At some point along the way, due to disputes about payment back of that loan, Covanta stopped releasing those funds, so we unable to pay the last two months of invoices for the construction completion project,” Williams said.

The case is in court. Covanta claims it never promised contractors anything, the Authority did, and adds that it provided funds for construction completion activities for the Authority until the Authority defaulted on its loan repayment obligations.

Williams said state-appointed receiver David Unkovic knows of the unpaid contractors and maybe he'll remember them in his recovery plan.

Lawrence sure hopes so.

“It's a lot of money,” he said, “especially a lot of money to a small business.”

Harrisburg's JEM group is the general contractor that hired Lawrence's company. JEM is owed nearly $1 million.

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