BUFFALO, NY - The contractor removed earlier this year from the long-delayed replica canal projects at the inner harbor, has filed an amended complaint as part of a series of lawsuits against the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation (ECHDC).
DiPizio construction's claims that the ECHDC greased the skids in an attempt to make sure DiPizio could not possibly have completed the project on time.
DiPizio also claims the ECHDC also tried to strong-arm them financially, in order to get rid of them.
Work has resumed on the replica canals with a new general contractor, the Pike Construction firm of Rochester.
Pike was the second lowest bidder on the job that originally went to DiPizio, which earlier this year was removed by the ECHDC.
ECHDC said DiPizio's job performance unsatisfactory.
In its amended complaint, DiPizio claims ECHDC President Thomas Dee and Construction Supervisor Mark Smith had several meetings "... in which they encouraged each other to make sure the plaintiff (DiPizio) would never be allowed to finish the project"
As part of being able to bid on the project, DiPizio obtained a $2 million bond, subject to forfeiture, if it failed to sign a contract and then start work in a timely fashion>
However, right off the bat, there was a 90-day delay in funding from the state, which DiPizio says made completion of the project under the ambitious schedule announced by ECHDC to have "ice skating by Thanksgiving" (2012) nearly impossible.
DiPizio claims that not long thereafter, the ECHDC offered to let DiPizio off the hook for that bond, on a condition that DiPizio says was unacceptable to the company.
"They wanted us to make a public statement, that we made an error in our bid and that we were asking to be let out," said Rosanne DiPizio, who served as the project manager for the company which was founded by her father 37 years ago.
"This was not the case, of course, but they needed somebody to blame," DiPizio told WGRZ-TV.
DiPizio says when the company refused, things got worse, and that the ECHDC engaged in a purposeful pattern of change orders, further delaying the project and driving up costs, while routinely dismissing suggestions from DiPizio for alternatives to keep the project moving on time and on budget.
DiPizio further accuses the ECHDC of conspiring to scuttle a plan by DiPizio to get DEC approval of contaminated, but non-hazardous soil from the site recycled industrial fill, sparing the $2 million dollar cost of disposing of it in a landfill.
The amended complaint alleges further that: "malevolent acts were motivated by Dee and Smith's personal animosity toward Rosanne DiPizio , whose primary sin is she's a woman in the "man's world" of construction".
"Normally, I work with professionals," DiPizio said.
As a result of being removed from the job, DiPizio says the Travelers Insurance Company, a regular source of bonding for the company, is no longer willing to underwrite the bonds they need for bids on other projects.
"Our bonding capacity was over $60 million...now we're down to almost nothing because of this problem and nobody knows what the ramifications are going to be yet."
The only ramifications at this point, said DiPizio, is that the otherwise stellar reputation company begun by her father has been unfairly impugned.
"They're going to make DiPizio Construction the scapegoat for as long as they can until we can prove otherwise,she said.
The Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation declined to make anyone available for an interview, sending the following statement instead:
This matter is in litigation so we are limited in what we can discuss at this time. Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation (ECHDC) is moving forward on the historically aligned canals project and looks forward to getting the project restarted and completed by next summer. You've seen our success at Canalside and soon that vision will be broadened at One Canalside and expanded to the East Canal and HARBORCenter, both of which are under construction and on schedule. The historically aligned canals project will compliment these exciting private sector investments. Together, these projects comprise a complete transformation of a magnificent new waterfront gateway to Buffalo. We appreciate the public's patience and support as these multiple projects turn Western New York's visions of a bright future into a shining new reality."
"In 37 years my father has never not completed a contract, ever," said DiPizio. "He is devastated by this, and if there's one thing I want it's to get my dad's reputation back. He has done nothing wrong...he is a gentleman, and he didn't deserve this."
While the judge in the case is steering both sides toward settlement talks, DiPizio says its primary concern is restoring its reputation, and is uncertain if that can be accomplished through a settlement.
Click on the video player to watch our story from 2 on Your Side Reporter Dave McKinley and Photojournalist Norm Fisher. Follow Dave on Twitter: @DaveMcKinley2