Feds stand behind Hook development decision

Appeal of determination that process followed regulations already filed

Staff Writer

Staff Writer

The federal government dismissed their protests, but two opponents of private development at Fort Hancock aren’t giving up.

"I’m looking at different avenues to pursue," said Philip Crifasi Jr. Tuesday.

Crifasi, a Tinton Falls real estate developer, was informed last week that the government would not investigate his complaint of improprieties in the bidding process used to award a lease for historic buildings at the fort to a private developer.

In a letter dated Sept. 22, Anthony Gamboa, general counsel of the U.S. General Accounting Office, Washington, D.C., informed Crifasi that there is no basis for the government watchdog to investigate the charges.

"We dismiss the protest because we generally do not consider challenges to the lease of government property," the letter read.

One of 10 finalists competing for redevelopment rights to 36 buildings at the fort, Crifasi filed a charge last month that a National Park Service official, acting in concert with a competing developer, influenced the selection process in favor of a proposal by James Wassel, head of Sandy Hook Partners LLC.

Like Crifasi, Peter O’Such Jr. of Fair Haven also questioned the Park Service’s compliance with federal procurement regulations in awarding the lease to Wassel.

A letter he received from David Montoya, assistant inspector general for investigations of the Office of the Inspector General, within the Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C., informed O’Such that the Park Service awarded the lease under a different set of regulations from which the Park Service derives its historic leasing authority.

A retired government procurement specialist, O’Such fired off a rebuttal to a finding of "no further action" issued by the Office of the Inspector General in response to his charge of deficiencies in the lease award process.

"Overall, I believe the majority of the points I raised are still valid, that their (the government’s) conclusions are incorrect and they have not adhered to the set of procurement regulations that they stated were applicable," said O’Such Tuesday.

"To someone not well-grounded in federal government procurement matters, your explanation would appear to be plausible and reasonable," he wrote to Montoya. "But this conclusion is not correct, and is totally self-serving."

Regulations governing the Park Service’s historic leasing authority, and procurement regulations governing the request for proposal process are not mutually exclusive, O’Such said.

"They actually agree and overlap in more ways than they differ, with both sets of regulations requiring that much the same procedures be followed," O’Such wrote. "Bottom line, the Park Service did not adhere to its own historic leasing authority regulations."

The inspector general’s finding was based on an analysis by the Office of Acquisition and Property Management which found the request for proposals should have been conducted under the authority of the National Park Service’s Historic Leasing Program. That office concluded that public notice ensured fairness to all offerers, and openness was ensured by public mailings and advertisements. It said regulations do not require evaluation factors to be ranked, and that the lease allows the leasee to shift an approved use to another building but does not allow an entirely new use. It said it could be inferred from the RFP proposals that a greater number of buildings and no new construction would be favored. It also said reopening negotiations is not a customary business practice and would compromise the competitive process.

The review also found that Sandy Hook Partners could not obtain a commitment for financing until the completion of compliance activities. The Park Service’s Letter of Intent gives the developer six months after the finding of "No Significant Impact" (issued in July) in which to line up commitments.

In a point-by-point rebuttal of the inspector general’s findings, O’Such criticized the process followed by the NPS for lacking fairness to all prospective offerors and openness; failing to inform those who submitted proposals that historic credits were only available with leases for 40 years to 60 years; failing to inform proposers that offers involving a greater number of buildings and no new construction would be preferred and that the length of lease was variable; allowing Sandy Hook Partners to maintain an office in a building when regulations strictly limit access "for the purpose of conducting due diligence activities and to prepare for financing of the project," and require 48 hours notice.

O’Such also questioned why offers have been open since November 1999 and are not being reverified and updated.

Park Service officials were unavailable for comment on Tuesday.