Hurricane Sandy. Photo courtesy of NOAA Environmental Visualization Lab via Wikipedia.

Hurricane Sandy. Photo courtesy of NOAA Environmental Visualization Lab via Wikipedia.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie – although wildly popular – faces criticism for adopting a Connecticut contract for storm cleanup instead of going through the normal bidding process as Superstorm Sandy loomed.

Raising Hale first wrote about Connecticut’s contract with AshBritt, a Florida-based disaster recovery contractor, in October 2012, just as Sandy approached the region. The investigation detailed how Connecticut cities and towns wasted at least $20 million by using the state contract with AshBritt instead of setting up their own contracts to clean up after the October 2011 snowstorm, sometimes called Alfred.

In December, Raising Hale wrote about how Christie copied the Connecticut contract in the days leading up to the massive storm.

Last month, the New Jersey media and Christie’s political rivals began challenging Christie’s decision to use the Connecticut contract.

“Town officials who turned away from AshBritt cut their debris removal bills in half, yet report no problems in getting reimbursed by FEMA,” Bob Jordan reported for the Asbury Park Press.

Subsequent media reports in New Jersey pointed out Christie’s plans for a fundraiser Thursday at the Virginia home of a lobbyist whose firm represents AshBritt in Washington.

Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, co-founder of the lobbying firm, has also defended Christie’s decision to use the Connecticut contract.

Although both the Connecticut and New Jersey contracts are optional for local governments, many communities use agreements thinking the state has their best interest in mind when setting them up.

AshBritt offers nearly unlimited capacity to clean up after storms – picking up everything from trees to dead animals to hazardous waste – but these features have costs.

After the 2011 snowstorm, towns in Connecticut usually paid less than $8 per cubic yard to companies collecting fallen trees. AshBritt received $21.25 per cubic yard from towns using the state contract.

AshBritt charged $6 per cubic yard to grind the debris, while other contractors charged $5 or less.

Towns using AshBritt paid $210 to remove a tree six to 12 inches in diameter. Another contractor used by at least three Connecticut towns charged less than $50 to remove trees that size.

New Jersey’s use of the contract had no impact on Sandy cleanup in Connecticut, according to state officials.