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Lawmakers Outraged by DelDOT Secretary’s Parting Shot

Wed April 05, 2006 - Northeast Edition
Randall Chase - ASSOCIATED PRESS



DOVER, DE (AP) Outraged by last-minute contracts signed by Delaware’s former transportation secretary just before he left office, Republican lawmakers on March 16 called for criminal and civil investigations by the attorney general’s office.

Meanwhile, Gov. Ruth Ann Minner and her budget director said they had no prior knowledge that former Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Nathan Hayward III planned to sign agreements with private developers in late January committing more than $41 million in state transportation funds to riverfront development projects in Wilmington.

Hayward signed the agreements three days before his resignation and four days before Minner signed a bill passed by the General Assembly stripping the transportation secretary of exclusive authority to enter into agreements for riverfront development projects.

“He knew that they wanted to put the brakes on these projects,” said an angry Rep. Greg Lavelle, R-Wilmington.

The bill was approved as lawmakers wrestled with how to close a projected $2.7- billion gap over the next six years between transportation projects they had approved during Hayward’s tenure and available funding.

Hayward, an enthusiastic supporter of the riverfront development project, announced in December that he was resigning effective Feb. 1 after being diagnosed with prostate cancer. He left lawmakers and administration officials who were trying to figure out how to close the funding gap for road projects now scrambling to come up with $75 million more over the next four years than they thought they needed in October for the Wilmington riverfront projects, including as much as $15 million by the end of June.

The $75 million total includes the $41 million Hayward committed on Jan. 28, and other projects he previously arranged, apparently without the approval of lawmakers.

“I’m just absolutely outraged,’ said Rep. Richard Cathcart, R-Middletown, chairman of the House transportation committee.

Attempts to reach Hayward for comment were not immediately successful.

Cathcart and other House Republicans said they want the attorney general’s office to investigate Hayward’s actions.

Attorney General Carl Danberg said he had not been contacted by any lawmakers.

Minner noted, however, that her former cabinet secretary was given sole authority in the state’s fiscal 2004 capital budget to enter into contract agreements involving riverfront projects.

“He had the authority to do it under the law,” Minner said, adding that there was little chance the state could void the contracts.

Minner said she has not spoken to Hayward.

“Nathan has not been well, and I have tried to not bother him,” she said.

Lawmakers are trying to determine whether the contracts include clauses that would invalidate the agreements if the General Assembly does not appropriate the necessary funds.

Administration officials, meanwhile, are trying to renegotiate the agreements and already have been able to save taxpayers approximately $4 million in construction costs by reworking an agreement to build a parking garage. They also said the state should save tens of millions of dollars in operating costs by assuming ownership of the garage but nevertheless admit it will probably be a losing proposition for taxpayers in the long run.

Rep. William Oberle Jr., R-Newark, said taxpayers could be on the hook for millions more because the contracts Hayward signed absolve the former owners of two land parcels purchased by the state of any liability for environmental hazards.

“There are a lot of unknowns out there,” said Oberle, adding that Hayward, a member of the DuPont family, is “about as selfish a human being as I’ve ever met.”