Buck blames DOT for dry-dock fiasco

12 January @ 14:46:42

Sequim Gazette

The finger of blame points straight at the state Department of Transportation, said 24th District Rep. Jim Buck, R-Joyce.

The department is at fault for policies that forced a decision to move a dry-dock site away from Port Angeles harbor and possibly out of Clallam County, he said. And the department is responsible for spending $59 million without producing any bridge components, said Buck.
At a meeting with local backers Saturday, Buck said the department alienated the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe when its project fell behind schedule. Buck said a legislative investigation of the department's failures should be convened immediately.
Linda Mullen, communications manager for the department said, "Bring it on."
"The Legislature is welcome to any of the records we have, and we'll cooperate (with the investigation)," she said Monday.
The dry docks in Port Angeles were to be used to build replacement concrete pontoons and anchors for the Hood Canal bridge.
During more than 15 months of work at the site, no bridge components were produced and very little of the facility for building the components was built. Three weeks ago the tribe asked the state to stop all work at the site. Two weeks ago the department announced it would find a different site for the construction.
Buck sees the problem in simple financial terms. He said costs to stop work, liquidated damages, delay costs and finishing the archaeological excavation could double the current expenses.
"The question is whether an agency director has the power to walk away from $59 million without legislative authorization," said Buck.
To get an answer to that question, Buck wrote a letter to the speaker of the House calling for "an investigation of the events surrounding the abandonment of the graving dock project in Port Angeles."
Rep. Lynn Kessler, D-Grays Harbor, and Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, joined Buck in signing the letter to Rep. Frank Chopp, R-Selah, speaker of the House. The letter said the bridge should be replaced quickly.
"The bridge is already failing as evidenced by the inability to fully open the draw span without jamming the mechanism," it said.
At the meeting Buck said the dry dock should stay in Port Angeles because moving to a new location would cause a delay in bridge renovation. He said there is no guarantee a different site would not encounter problems, causing more delays.
Ten days ago state Secretary of Transportation Doug MacDonald gave orders that no activity would be allowed at the site. Last week the department had a security fence erected around the 22.5-acre waterfront site.

--by William Simonsen
Gazette staff writer
Published 1.12.05
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