Washington State parks commission squandered millions on failed project, says state auditor

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A report released by Washington State Auditor Brian Sonntag, claims that the state Parks and Recreation Commission wasted millions of dollars on a water and sewer project at Fort Flagler State Park near Port Townsend.

What started out as a project to fix the RV waste dump, turned into a multi-million dollar waste of taxpayers money.

A small project to replace a recreational vehicle sewage dump, budgeted at $140,000, eventually ballooned into massive bungled undertaking, costing taxpayers over $7 million. The auditor said that “ the Commission did not monitor or enforce terms of the contracts, did not hold contractors liable for failed systems … authorized change orders that appeared to be outside the scope of the original project and failed to ensure a construction contractor met safety requirements.”

The report was produced after an investigation triggered by the filing of an employee whistle-blower lawsuit, alleging gross negligence on the part of the commission and park employees.

In 2000, the agency hired a firm to repair the dump and drain field at the park, which was not operating properly. Although the contractor was paid in full to do the work, it was apparently never completed.

Next, the commission decided to replace the entire water and sewer system in the park in addition to replacing the dump and drain system. The park’s water and drain system was installed new in the 1950s, but not performing well. The agency paid $1.4 million for the design and build of the system in 2005, but that system failed the same year.

The system was apparently installed by a firm not licensed to do that type of work. The construction also deviated from the design drawings, based on changes suggested by the contractor. Because the changes were approved by a park employee, the commission decided not to go after the contractor to fix the system.

While the new system was being installed, the park spent several hundreds of thousands of dollars pumping sewage from holding tanks.

In 2006, the agency paid the same consultant who designed the just-built faulty system, another $1.3 million to design a different and larger system for the entire park. The job was given to licensed contractor this time, and the work was completed in 2009 at a cost of $3.2 million.

Virginia Painter, a spokeswoman for the commission admitted fault saying that “we didn’t do the job to the standard we would like to do.”

The Seattle Times

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