No more criminal charges in Harrisburg incinerator ‘debacle’ but is civil lawsuit coming?

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – It is 82 pages long and it names some names and lists missteps and wrongdoing.

“This debacle is outrageous,” Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D) said Thursday as he released a grand jury report into Harrisburg’s scandal-plagued and debt-ridden incinerator.

Shapiro spoke of a power-hungry mayor and his ethically challenged advisors.

He called it a “financial house of cards” built around an ill-advised incinerator retro-fit that drove Harrisburg to the brink.

“It’s a great city, a great city that was badly harmed and continues to be hampered,” Shapiro said with a pained expression.

Harmed but no foul the Thirty-Ninth Grand Jury concluded. Despite the mistakes, apparent greed, lies and cover up there will be no charges, Shapiro announced, because statute of limitations (the crime clock) ran out. But the debt clock didn’t expire. City and county taxpayers on the hook for $300 million.

“To say there’s no criminality, or coercion, or corruption is really difficult to swallow,” Harrisburg Treasurer and longtime resident Dan Miller said.

Miller is a former city councilman who spent years publicly decrying the excesses of the Reed administration. He’s frustrated authorities didn’t act fast enough for charges to be filed and someone to be held accountable.

“It’s no wonder that people lose faith in their government because it seems like these people do these things, they get away with a slap on the wrist, and we end up paying,” Miller said.

The state also bears some responsibility, according to the report. The Department of Environmental Protection apparently looked the other way. When inspectors would find wrongdoing,  those violations were quashed at the management level. The report questioned whether “politics played a role in the decision to grant a permit to the city to retrofit the incinerator, in spite of the ever-present violations and the deplorable condition of the facility.”

And the Department of Community and Economic Development is tasked with municipal debt oversight, sort of. Harrisburg’s debt was massive and unrealistic but “DCED does not check methodology, facts, figures, projections or anything else related to the project,” the report noted.

So what is it checking?

Penmanship?

“I was hoping the report would give closure but it didn’t,” Rep. Patty Kim (D-Dauphin) who represents Harrisburg said.

Kim is looking forward. She plans to turn several of the grand jury recommendations for better government into laws.

“To put them together as a package and present it to the legislature so we can protect other municipalities and not have to go through this nightmare,” Kim said.

Sources tell ABC27 a civil lawsuit could be coming against the numerous professionals who cashed in on Harrisburg’s demise but escaped criminal prosecution.

“I still think there’s bags of money out there, that consultants have, that the contractors have, that need to flow back to the city of Harrisburg,” Eric Epstein of Rock the Capital said.

Miller has been a longtime proponent of term limits for Harrisburg’s mayor. Stephen Reed held too much power for too long and that created the problem, Miller said. Term limits would help solve it, he believes.

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