State audit board to probe graving yard issue still trying
for March meeting
OLYMPIA -- A legislative board that has been asked to audit spending for the ill-fated graving yard in Port Angeles has delayed its planned meeting for mid-March.
The Transportation Performance Audit Board is the cornerstone of a plan by Rep. Jim Buck and fellow House Transportation Committee Republicans to investigate the waterfront project and how the price tag rose to $58.8 million when it was canceled last Dec. 21.
The audit board originally was going to meet March 14.
But many of the panelists are legislators and have responsibilities in the Capitol at that time, said Nate Naismith, staff coordinator for the Legislative Transportation Committee.
The panel is still targeting a meeting in March with Transportation Secretary Doug MacDonald, Naismith said.
The meeting would allow MacDonald to give the Transportation Performance Audit Board an updated summary of activities surrounding the graving yard project, Naismith said.
Then the board would decide how to respond to a Feb. 4 letter from the Republicans on the House Transportation Committee who asked for the graving yard investigation, he said.
The project in Port Angeles was halted at the request of the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe, whose ancestral remains and artifacts were found on the 22.5-acre site.
``The meeting was planned to be an overview of some of DOT's construction management processes, and within that the graving yard would be addressed,'' Naismith said.
``We're still in the process of scheduling the March meeting. The challenge is working around the legislative schedule.''
The Transportation Performance Audit Board consists of 11 members, including four legislators: two each from the House Transportation Committee and the Senate Transportation Committee.
The lawmakers will be preoccupied around March 14 because March 7 is the last day to read committee reports in their house of origin, and March 16 is the deadline to consider bills.
The state Legislature's 120-day regular session ends April 22.
Buck, R-Joyce, and the other Republicans on the House Transportation Committee have demanded an investigation and audit of the Port Angeles graving yard, which was to have been a giant dry dock in which components for a new east half of the Hood Canal Bridge were to be fashioned.
A letter to the board demanding ``a comprehensive and open investigatory process'' was sent by Buck, Rep. Beverly Woods, R-Kingston, and nine other Republicans on the House Transportation Committee.
Buck said the request was made because committee members have little confidence in the state Department of Transportation's ability to conduct a thorough and impartial probe on its own.
The letter to board chairman Doug Hurley asked that the panel focus on seven specific questions:
* Why did the state decide it was in the best interest of taxpayers to build its own graving yard/dry dock instead of using an existing site owned by a private entity?
* What was the total amount of money spent on the Port Angeles site?
This should be outlined in a detailed breakdown of all funds spent at the facility, the letter says.
* In chronological order, what happened from when the first Native American artifact was found to the decision to abandon the site?
* Who made the decision to abandon the site?
* What authority did the Transportation Department have to spend more than $20 million beyond what was allocated to this stage of the project?
* What bills remain unpaid from this project and what are the estimated amounts of those bills?
* Can anything at the site be salvaged or used for other Transportation projects?
``If there was ever a reason for a performance audit of DOT, this is it,'' said Woods, the ranking Republican member of the Transportation Committee.
``If they hope to maintain any measure of credibility with the taxpayers, they need to be completely open and transparent -- not only of what was spent, but who decided what and why.''
OLYMPIA -- Gov. Christine Gregoire this week said in writing what she has stated publicly:
The Port Angeles graving yard will remain closed for good while the state looks for a new site.
In a Jan. 21 letter to Gregoire, Port Angeles Mayor Richard Headrick had asked the governor to ``reconsider your direction to the [state Department of Transportation].''
Gregoire sent her written response to Headrick on Wednesday, Gregoire spokesman Jerry Gilliland said.
In the letter, Gregoire said, ``As DOT begins its new site selection process, I have requested that the utmost consideration be given to locating the new graving dock facility on the Olympic Peninsula if possible.''
Still holding hope
But Headrick said Thursday he still holds out hope that the site might be reopened.
He said he's sorry about her decision.
``She's the governor. She can decide what she wants, and I can disagree or not.''
Added Headrick: ``I'm still trying to get the facts.''
Gilliland said the decision to shut down the graving yard was made before Gregoire was governor.
Transportation Secretary Doug MacDonald and former Gov. Gary Locke closed the site on Marine Drive on Dec. 22 after hundreds of Native American remains and thousands of artifacts were discovered and unearthed during construction.
``This decision was made before the governor was even governor,'' Gilliland said of Gregoire.
``She has said it's time to move on to deciding where to locate the graving dock. That's what the Department of Transportation is concentrating on.
``There is no reconsideration of putting the graving dock [in Port Angeles].''
Governor's letter to Mayor Headrick
Following is the text of Wednesday's letter from Gov. Christine Gregoire to Port Angeles Mayor Richard Headrick:
Dear Mayor Headrick:
Thank you for writing. I appreciate your community's strong concerns over the Department of Transportation's (DOT) recent determination that it cannot proceed with the graving dock project.
I know you are aware of how the situation has evolved and that, along with the public, you have been apprised by DOT staff of the factors leading to this difficult choice.
I have requested the Transportation Commission to evaluate why the archaeological assessment failed to identify that human remains and extensive artifacts were on site.
I also requested that the secretary and some DOT commission members visit your community to hear concerns and provide answers to questions. I'm very appreciative that this was done through meetings with DOT and Port Angeles residents on Feb. 2 and 14.
I think we all can agree that replacing the east half of the Hood Canal Bridge is an overarching priority. As DOT begins its new site selection process, I have requested that the utmost consideration be given to locating the new graving dock facility on the Olympic Peninsula if possible.
Economic development is a foremost priority of my administration and I know it is important particularly in the Port Angeles area. I look forward to working with you, your community and legislators to make it happen.
Christine O. Gregoire
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