Work on the new Puget Island ferry ramp is nearly finished, but the contractor and county officials have a long way to go to resolve a violation of grant funding conditions. Officials in the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) are threatening to pull funding after learning that a sub-contractor used Mexican steel in the project. County officials have been seeking a waiver or other solution that would keep funding intact and not severely penalize the contractor, Bergerson Construction of Astoria. So far, that solution remains elusive, officials said this week. Commission Chair Blair Brady reported Tuesday that Senator Patty Murray's office is looking for a solution. "They've not found a resolution to the problem," he said. "A waiver seems applicable only if you can show there's no way the work can be done in the US." Public Works Director Pete Ringen and the contractor are discussing concepts they believe to be in the public interest with higher level authority in the FHWA and have been working on crafting a letter. "FHWA has some tough criteria on waivers, so that contractors cannot intentionally bend the rules with ease," Ringen said. "Bergerson has been forthright about their error all along, and in my opinion, a call to a U.S. supplier resulting in an inadvertent error in what was shipped, is not in the same category as intentionally trying to bypass the law." And while the actual construction is nearly done, the county won't formally accept the project until the funding situation is resolved. "There is a punch list of items for the contractor to finish up and they have been notified of those things," Ringen said. "In addition, there is paperwork, they must turn in as required by the contract, such as statements for Labor and Industries, and similar reporting documents. "We have also officially notified them that the pontoon is out of compliance with the contract, which they knew already. I don't see a way to accept the project as complete until the matter of the foreign steel is resolved."
State and federal grants are paying for the $1.87 million project, and federal grants require use of domestically produced steel. A subcontractor in Indiana, however, contracted work on the ramp's float, valued around $250,000, to a firm which did the work in a shop in Mexico, and a portion of the steel was manufactured in Mexico. Upon learning of the discrepancy, the general contractor, Bergerson Construction of Astoria, reported the discrepancy to Wahkiakum County officials, who then contacted state and federal officials to determine what could be done to resolve the problem without leaving the county and contractor stuck with unexpected costs.