MOREAU — The loggers are finally getting their money back, but not all of it.
Two would-be loggers who paid the town $31,000 in advance for timber they were going to harvest on town land will get $27,000 in a settlement with the town.
They paid for timber more than two years ago, agreeing to log on Palmerton Mountain land to create nature trails for future use. But Gardner Congdon, running for supervisor at the time, decried the deal. He said the loggers, who were also hired to harvest timber on another site, were chopping down the best trees and telling the town that the timber was worth far less.
When he took office, he immediately canceled the contracts. But he never gave back the money that the loggers had prepaid for the wood.
The loggers came to Town Board meetings, begging for their money back if they weren’t going to be allowed to harvest the trees.
They threatened to sue many times. Recently, they got serious. They hired a lawyer who sent the town a letter of demand. That letter wanted $40,000, which included 9 percent interest for the past two years.
But the loggers said they’d settle for $27,000 if they could get their money back more quickly.
Town Board members agreed to take the deal.
New Supervisor Todd Kusnierz described the settlement as “an effort to put this issue behind us and do the right thing.”
He had previously told Congdon, at public meetings, that the town ought to reimburse the loggers.
But Congdon was angry with what he described as low-balling the town on timber prices. He persuaded town officials that the prices were unfair and that they should not go forward with the logging contract and then refused to discuss reimbursement of the prepayment.
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Board members said they were willing to pay the money back now to avoid a lawsuit.
“If we push this down the road longer, we may lose the opportunity at $27,000,” said board member Kyle Noonan.
Kusnierz added that he expected the loggers would not only win the lawsuit, but also force the town to pay their legal fees.
The case almost led to a counter-suit from the town. Congdon found evidence of possible collusion that led to just one bidder for the logging contract. The town had a contract with Saratoga Land Management Corp. in which loggers were paid per-tree, after evaluating the quality of its wood.
Saratoga Land Management Corp. marked trees for removal to create hiking paths, for which it was paid. But instead of doing the logging that was described in the contract, the company advised the town to go out to bid on the trees.
Only one bid was received, from logging company Prentiss & Carlisle. The town accepted it, signing a second contract that allowed loggers to pay average market price for each type of wood, without regard to the actual quality of the trees logged.
“Our job was to get the town the most money,” said Saratoga Land Management Corp. President Chuck Gerber, when he was asked about it last summer.
He noted that his company received a percentage of the buyer’s payment, so it was in his interest to get the town the best price.
But Congdon said the proposal was fishy.
“The contract with Chuck from Saratoga was in effect. And he’s saying that mysteriously, Prentiss showed up. At that point in time, his contract called for (logging) the trees. All he had to do was carry out the contract he had,” Congdon said. “Prentiss said, ‘I’m interested in that,’ a bid was written up with specifications Prentiss could meet and they got one bid. There was, at the minimum, conversations and/or collusion between those two parties.”
Gerber said the town should have insisted on more bidders, but it’s not clear that Town Board members realized the contract with Gerber called for his company to do the logging.