CROWN POINT | Accusations of bid-rigging, official negligence and political smear campaigns broke like a storm Wednesday morning over Lake County drainage board meetings.
Eric Krieg, the Republican candidate for county surveyor; Joe Hero, a St. John Republican activist; and Joe Jargella, of Chem Check Inc., of Gary, used Wednesday's public meetings to lash out at Surveyor George Van Til, a Democrat running for re-election, over allegations of misconduct involving flood control work on Spring Street Ditch in Munster and the Brown Levee Ditch southeast of Lowell.
Emil Poppa, president of R.A. Oras of Munster, the vendor that won contracts on both projects, and Van Til both defended their work and denounced the criticism as the product of political gamesmanship by Krieg and Hero and sour grapes by Jargella, a competitor of Oras.
Krieg repeated allegations he has made throughout his campaign that the county unfairly picked Oras for the Brown Levee work, even though Chem Check was the lower bidder, and paid Oras $185,000 last year for the Brown Levee and Spring Street although the work hadn't been completed on either.
Krieg said he found Oras failed to install silting control fences or remove sediment from sections of a ditch bottom, kill trees growing on a ditch bank or use the proper quality erosion control blanketing required by the county's contract. He demanded Oras refund the county tens of thousands more than he already had done.
When Krieg's complaints appeared to have no effect on the bipartisan, 11-member county drainage advisory committee, Krieg complained that Van Til had made them his rubber stamp.
"You are using this board to deflect charges of bid-rigging. You are making them accessories to your crime," Krieg said.
Van Til responded, "This is not the time for a political diatribe."
Advisory Committee Chairman Tom Silich gaveled Krieg out of order. "You got your point across," Silich said.
Hero berated county commissioners, who met after the advisory committee.
"A lot of irregularities have been uncovered. This is the tip of the iceberg," Hero said.
When Commissioner Fran DuPey, D-Hammond, challenged Hero's credibility, Hero responded, "What world are you living in?"
Commissioner Gerry Scheub, D-Crown Point, shot back at Hero, "You treat her like a lady." DuPey added, speaking to Hero, "Treat me like a commissioner."
Van Til released the results of an investigation of Krieg's complaints, written by Harold G. Hagberg, a Crown Point attorney. It concluded the payments to Oras were properly made for reimbursement of materials Oras needed to finish the job. It states Oras properly refunded $3,700 to the county for the lesser quality erosion control blankets, and no more money was required.
Poppa said his crews mistakenly laid down the wrong erosion materials, but he did install silt fences and dredged ditch channels as required.
County Attorney John Dull did clear Jargella on Wednesday of allegations by the surveyor's office that his Chem Check Inc. firm wasn't a responsible contractor. Van Til and Jargella had a dispute earlier over the quality of Chem Check's earlier work on another flood control project.