The state of Pennsylvania continues to try to recover funds from professional firms involved in the city of Harrisburg’s disastrous incinerator project in the early 2000’s and has named, Buchart Horn, Inc., an engineering, architecture and planning firm based in York, Pa. as a defendant.
Specifically, the state charges the engineer with one count of professional malpractice for failing to exercise requisite professional care and skill for its work in preparing an economic analysis of the project before work began.
Buchart Horn says in a statement that it plans to fight the lawsuit, which was filed in state court in Harrisburg.
“We are confident that the evidence will show the misstatements made regarding Buchart Horn’s work on behalf of the City and the lack of a claim against Buchart Horn. Our actions were entirely appropriate and consistent with professional standards,” the company said.
The project had its origins in Harrisburg's need to bring the aging incinerator into compliance with stricter Environmental Protection Agency rules. After several years the city's incinerator authority embarked on a $73-million retrofit plan involving a boiler-and-stoker design and high-pressure blasts of air, instead of mechanical grates, to churn waste and control the burn.
In 2003, Buchart Horn prepared a report on the technical and financial viability of the then-proposed retrofit. The study used information from the project’s main contractor, Barlow Projects.
“With so many professionals reviewing the projections to move the project forward, why did no one question the numbers?” a state grand jury asked years later.
Buchart Horn CEO Brian Funkhouser has said the city was aware that the study’s numbers were all “based on Barlow projections” and that his company's report actually raised doubts about the project.
In reality, Funkhouser stated, “The report questioned the ability of the proposed retrofit to carry the financial load the Authority would have to carry when it was completed.”
“Despite that recommendation, the city decided to proceed.”
The costs and losses associated with the retrofit of the aging incinerator eventually burdened the incinerator authority and city agencies with $360 million in debt.
The Other Harrisburg Incinerator Defendants
Others named as defendants include financial advisors Public Financial Management and RBC Capital Markets Corp.; law firms Obermayer, Rebmann, Maxwell & Hippel; Eckert, Seamans, Cherin & Mellot, and Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney. The state lawsuit contends that the consultations of these firms were not delivered in good faith. The lawsuit doesn’t name specific amounts for damages but does seek them.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said in a statement that the lawsuit is meant to “hold those responsible for the failed incinerator debt scheme accountable and recoup the taxpayer dollars wasted by their negligence and deception.”
In April 2017, a state grand jury report criticized the role of engineering firms involved in the project. The report, as well as other public documents, describe how Harrisburg Mayor Stephen Reed and city officials fired an engineering firm that questioned the feasibility of the project. The city then hired Buchart Horn, which produced its technical and financial study.