State audit board will investigate graving yard project halt

OLYMPIA — The state Transportation Performance Audit Board has decided to conduct an independent investigation into the state’s withdrawal from the Port Angeles graving yard project.

State Rep. Jim Buck, R-Joyce, said taxpayers deserve to know why the state Department of Transportation abandoned the project that already cost $58.8 million without consulting the Legislature.

“The money was spent with the understanding that we had a binding agreement, and I think that’s the big fly in the ointment right now,” Buck said Saturday.

He is one of the three state lawmakers for the 24th District that includes the North Olympic Peninsula.

He called the audit board’s decision “fabulous news.”

The Transportation Performance Audit Board voted unanimously last week to commission a thorough, independent audit of the graving yard project, the on-shore, concrete-lined dry dock in which the Department of Transportation planned to build pontoons and anchors to replace half of the Hood Canal Bridge.

Project was canceled

Transportation canceled the project Dec. 21 at the urging of the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe.

The tribe’s request followed months of archaeological excavation on the site that uncovered about 300 intact skeletons and nearly 10,000 artifacts from the 2,700-year-old Klallam village of Tse-whit-zen.

“We insisted on a full-blown audit done by an independent third party, and the rest of the board agreed,” said Rep. Beverly Woods, R-Kingston, who is also an audit board member.

“This won’t be some routine study that fails to look below the surface,” she said.

“Rep. Buck and I will make sure every stone is turned over so the taxpayers know exactly how [Transportation] put them in this predicament.”

The fate of the Port Angeles site is still up in the air as Transportation officials consider where to complete the bridge manufacturing project — possibly in Jefferson County but probably in the Puget Sound area.

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