While Crabb makes excuses, Morris County gets resignations

Last evening we had the opportunity to watch Freeholder Director Phil Crabb try to pass the blame and make excuses for a solar project that he, Rich Vohden, and Dennis Mudrick voted to bail out with millions of taxpayers' money.  Crabb made his statement on Vernon Vibes, a public service cable program.  

To make matters worse, at about the same time in Frankford, Mayor Gary Larson was leading the charge against even investigating the solar mess -- that's like sending the police away after a bank has been robbed.  But isn't that just like Sussex County?

Meanwhile, over in Morris County, they were acting like grown-ups and making sure that their taxpayers wouldn't be robbed again.  The Star-Ledger reported that two consultants connected with the deal had been asked to resign and their resignations accepted. 

Morris County consultants resign, in wake of solar project bailout

A month after investing more millions on a three-county solar project that fizzled amid an industry downturn, the Morris County freeholders and the county's improvement authority have accepted the resignation of two experts who advised on both the initial deal - and the bailout.

Morris County is now "looking for a possible exit strategy from the solar business," the county said in a release.

Stephen Pearlman, the Morris County Improvement Authority's attorney, and Steve Gabel, the head of energy consultant Gabel Associates, both submitted letters of resignation on Wednesday, which were accepted.

Pearlman was the attorney who advised on the project's setup, according to public documents. As the attorney for the improvement authority, he helped convince Sussex County to join with Somerset and Morris counties in the project.

Gabel advised on solar-energy prices, which plummeted just as the project was being built, according to those documents.

The three-county project was based on the "Morris model," a public-private way of financing that intermingles tax subsidies, private investment, and taxpayer money. The electricity produced would help pay off the public debt. Sussex, Somerset and Morris counties collectively borrowed $88 million to finance the project, which began in 2011.

But tumbling solar subsidy prices and litigation between the contractor and developer derailed the project, leaving roughly half the work in Morris and Sussex counties unfinished. Arbitrators awarded $66.3 million to the contractor, Power Partners MasTec, against developer SunLight General Capital LLC, according to court documents. SunLight then hired a bankruptcy law firm, using some $700,000 of the public money.

The counties then borrowed an additional $21 million last month to end all the litigation and to try and get the projects back on track - and limit losses. Critics, most notably Assemblyman Parker Space and Sussex County freeholders Gail Phoebus and George Graham, have requested an outside investigation into where the money went. A series of Sussex County municipalities have also requested the resignations of multiple county officials.

Pearlman and Gabel both did not comment on the reason for their resignation in their letters. Pearlman, reached by phone, declined comment. Their resignations take effect June 1.

Seth Augenstein can be reached at saugenstein@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @SethAugenstein. Find NJ.com on Facebook.