New York City residents were misled about the cost of one of the city's biggest construction projects -- a massive, underground water filtration plant, an audit has found.
City Comptroller William Thompson Jr. released audits Tuesday blasting the city Department of Environmental Protection for the soaring expenses and sluggish construction at the plant, which is being built beneath a Bronx golf driving range.
The plant alone -- without millions of dollars in associated projects -- is poised to cost $2 billion, more than twice an estimate from five years ago, the audit said. Additionally, the project won't meet an October 2011 deadline to be operational, potentially prompting $15 million in penalties.
"Taxpayers deserve better," Thompson said.
The DEP says the delay was unavoidable. The agency cites, among other things, hitches in awarding the major construction contract.
The audit was the latest in a series of examinations of the massive project, which has been plagued by cost increases, delays, fines and other snags. Set 10 stories underneath a golf driving range in the Bronx, it is now slated to be completed no earlier than April 2012.
Critics say the project has been mismanaged. Officials have said it's making good progress after a slow start.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency ordered the city in 1993 to build the plant, which will be New York City's first drinking water filtration facility and is believed to be the first subterranean water plant in the nation.
It's designed to filter up to a quarter of the city's water supply, or about 300 million gallons a day from reservoirs in a largely suburban area known as the Croton watershed. Most of city's water supply, piped in from rural areas more than 75 miles away, will remain unfiltered.
Over the years, the completion date has been pushed back by six years, the city has paid $5.7 million in fines over the delays and the price tag has soared. Early estimates from the 1990s put it at $660 million, and it was projected at $1.3 billion six years ago.
The city's Independent Budget Office found last fall that rising construction prices, design changes and a dearth of bidders had driven up the cost.
Water users will ultimately pay the increasing tab. The DEP has said the filtration plant accounts for about 7 percent of water users' bills, a figure comparable to those for other large-scale projects.