Port Angeles reaffirmed as possible Hood Canal Bridge anchor manufacturing site

OLYMPIA — State transportation officials reaffirmed Tuesday that they want to build concrete anchors for the Hood Canal Bridge in Port Angeles.

“We’ve had our contractor working hard as to how we could do that,” John Conrad, assistant transportation secretary, told the Washington Transportation Commission meeting in Olympia.

Earlier in the meeting, Commission Vice Chairman Dan O’Neal of Mason County said “there is a real interest” in building the anchors at Port of Port Angeles Terminal 7 between Boat Haven marina and the site of the partially completed graving yard project was canceled in December.

Lower Elwha Klallam tribal officials urged the Department of Transportation to stop work on the site, which overlies an ancestral graveyard and village known as Tse-whit-zen.

Conrad said a promise to build the anchors in Port Angeles would be premature, but he said an announcement could be coming soon.

For building other components to replace the floating bridge’s 44-year-old east half, the department has not yet decided whether to buy or lease land at any site, commissioners were told.

Kiewit General Construction Co. of Poulsbo is the contractor for the bridge project and probably will remain so, Conrad said.

Decision on fast track

As for three sites that are front-runners to build the pontoons, “we need posthaste to make a decision,” Conrad said.

The sites are the South Terminal of the Port of Everett, the Mats Mats Bay quarry in Jefferson County, and a combination of locations in Seattle and Tacoma packaged by a consortium of private companies.

Conrad did not offer comment on community opposition to a graving yard at Mats Mats or a renewed campaign by Jefferson County to promote a Port of Port Townsend-Port Townsend Paper Corp. proposal on industrially zoned land on Port Townsend Bay.

Instead, Transportation is taking a “plan forward perspective” and has been “hard at work on those problems,” Conrad said.

Negotiations with Kiewit

Negotiations on changing the graving yard contract continue with Kiewit General, he said. Officials met with the company on Monday in an all-day session.

There will be two or three changes, said Transportation Secretary Doug MacDonald, about “making contractors whole.”

“We’re all agreed that what we come up with will be justifiable to the public and the Federal Highway Administration,” MacDonald said.

In the meantime, MacDonald continues working on a report about the Port Angeles graving yard pullout after spending $58.8 million that he hopes will satisfy Gov. Christine Gregoire, the Legislature and federal agencies that have expressed interest in investigating the issue.

He said he had written 3½ chapters of an eight-chapter document.

“This is what I’ve been working on every night,” he said.

“It’s a pretty interesting story and we’re going to write it.”

Ready by month’s-end

Asked when transportation commissioners would see the report, MacDonald said he would have a draft ready for them by the end of this month.

“Take seriously that a report is going to be prepared,” he said.

In addition to Gregoire, MacDonald said he hoped the report would satisfy a possible probe by the state attorney general or state auditor, as proposed by Rep. Jim Buck, R-Joyce.

O’Neal said the report probably will be greeted with skepticism, especially in Port Angeles.

“The best defense against skepticism is completeness,” MacDonald said.

As for an audit of the department’s performance, MacDonald said he will testify March 31 before the Transportation Performance Audit Board.

West-half bridge work

Work continues on the west half of the Hood Canal Bridge.

As to when repairs might be finished, Conrad said a “float in” in of replacement pontoons is targeted for 2008 but probably won’t happen until 2009.

Other issues remain from the closure of the Port Angeles graving yard site, MacDonald said, including where the Lower Elwha tribe will rebury its ancestral remains.

Archaeologists unearthed hundreds of intact burials and thousands of skeletal fragments.

“What is the continued evolution of that work in Port Angeles?” he asked, answering himself that he wouldn’t hazard a guess without consultation with the Legislature.

O’Neal noted that conspiracy theories about the graving yard situation abound, although Commissioner Richard Ford of King County said: “Nobody’s come up with a smoking gun in the blame game.”

During a break in Tuesday’s meeting, O’Neal said he was frustrated with both sides of the controversy.

“There is a great interest in fixing the blame in Port Angeles,” he said, and less with fixing the Hood Canal Bridge.

The Lower Elwha tribe, he said, indicates it is ready to discuss the issue but unwilling to negotiate continuing excavation at the former graving dock.

On the other hand, O’Neal said: “Some city leaders’ statements are not conducive to cooperation.”

The Transportation Commission continues its two-day meeting today.

It reconvenes at 8:30 a.m. in the Transportation Building, 310 Maple Park Ave. S.E., Olympia.

The meeting is open to the public. A public and legislator comment period starts at 1 p.m.

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