Dredging work sparks controversy in Pacific Northwest

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U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer and the Quileute Indian tribe are upset about delays in a dredging project at La Push, on the Olympic Peninsula coast, and they want the Oregon-based contractor held responsible.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is overseeing the dredging at Quillayute Harbor, the Peninsula Daily News reported. The $1.5 million project is designed to maintain the tribe’s fishing fleet, which is vital to its economy, and the Coast Guard’s search-and-rescue station, the only such station for 100 miles of coastline.

Kilmer sent a letter to the Army last week alleging poor performance by the contractor, Marine Industrial Construction of Wilsonville, Ore. After about three months of work, only a fraction of what was supposed to be dredged has been completed and the contract’s work period is up. The company’s equipment is due to be removed this week. The project is expected to be put back out to bid.

“I strongly urge you to take action to ensure that taxpayer dollars are recovered to the greatest extent possible and that the federal contractor is held accountable for the failure to complete this critical project in a timely fashion,” Kilmer wrote to Jo-Ellen Darcy, the Army’s assistant secretary for civil works, according to the article, which was picked up by the Associated Press.

But the company, which has previously completed dredging projects for ports of Portland, Ore., and Vancouver, Wash., denied any allegations of mismanagement. Its project manager, Michael Harrison, called Kilmer’s accusations “completely wrong and disrespectful.”

Bad weather, high river flows, logjams and undisclosed debris that can’t be pumped — including sunken vessels, tires and fishing nets — caused the delays, he said.

“The bottom line is the condition presented in the contract documents is not representative of what was up there,” Harrison said.

Marine Industrial Construction has been paid about $400,000, but has spent about $1.1 million on the project, he said.

Corps spokeswoman Patricia Graesser said the Seattle District would respond to Kilmer’s letter with updated information this week.

Quillayute Harbor was last dredged in 2011. It was set to be dredged again in 2013, but the work was delayed when Congress failed to pass a spending bill.

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