Governor orders independent safety review of 520 pontoons

SEATTLE -- Gov. Chris Gregoire has called for an independent review to ensure the safety of the leaking pontoons for the State Route 520 floating bridge.

The governor's announcement came just one day after KOMO News reported the findings of a Problem Solvers investigation that revealed all six of the first pontoons for Lake Washington are leaking, and taxpayers would pay the cost for delays in the pontoon construction.

The governor on Friday promised Washington citizens they would be protected.

"I have made it clear based on what I saw in your report that I want another independent expert panel to review them," she told KOMO News.

The Problem Solvers obtained thousands of pages of public records and hours of video inspections inside the first six pontoons built in Aberdeen and floated to Lake Washington.

What KOMO News found was far different from what the state Department of Transportation claimed just last month when asked about a leak in one pontoon and water weeping through the wall of another.

"That is the only leak that we've identified," WSDOT spokesperson Julie Meredith had said.

But according to videos shot in August and just released to the Problem Solvers, all six of the pontoons have experienced leaks.

The governor said she wants an expert panel to decide whether the pontoons are safe.

There is also the issue of money. The delays involving the pontoons are costing taxpayers millions of dollars, according to insiders.

The financial deal consists of two independent contracts, both with contractor Kiewit Construction, and it appears to favor the contractor over the taxpayer. Kiewit, coincidentally, was the subject of a KOMO News investigation last spring that revealed the contractors' employees drinking on the job.

For each day Kiewit runs late with pontoons in Aberdeen, the company owes the state $10,000 under one contract.

But delays in Aberdeen also means the pontoons will be late arriving at Lake Washington, and the state has to pay Kiewit $100,000 per day under the second contract.

As a result, Kiewit makes an extra $90,000 per day even though the delays were caused by Kiewit's work ordered by the first contract.

"And I've asked for a full report about, 'OK, what does each of the respective contracts call for? What's the coordination of the two?'" said Gregoire.

Kiewit Construction told KOMO News late Friday afternoon that water in pontoons in the early stages of a project like this is not unusual. The company said it is committed to delivering a safe, high-quality floating bridge.