State spending millions on Chinese cement that's available here

SEATTLE -- The KOMO 4 Problem Solvers are uncovering new questions about the construction of the 520 floating bridge.

Specifically, why millions of your tax dollars are being spent to import the cement from China when it's available right here in Washington. It certainly begs the question whether all of the cracks and leaks we've exposed in our on-going investigation of the 520 pontoons can be traced to that imported cement.

The Aberdeen construction site where those pontoons are built buzzes. Workers pour concrete to form the second set of six massive concrete pontoons. And already those pontoons, like the first set now out on Lake Washington, have extensive cracks.

"It's disappointing, it's disgusting. I'm really really disgusted," said Union Activist Carl Krull.

Krull is upset at the on-going problems with the pontoons, but he first started looking into the project when he found out the cement comes from -- China.

"Why are we shipping it 5000 miles when we have a cement factory two miles from the bridge?" he said.

Krull points to Ash Grove Cement, a 131 year fixture in Seattle. Ash Grove tells me they are able to supply all the cement for the pontoons, but they lost the bid. Krull wonders why a state and federal project is sending those millions overseas.

"What's the matter with keeping your money at home? What's the matter with creating local jobs?" he said.

Krull doesn't know if the Chinese cement is a factor in the pontoon cracks, but it is different than the cement used in a test pontoon WSDOT built before the 520 was even put up for bid. That project -- called ACME -- tested different recipes of concrete, using specific cement, aggregate or rock and amounts of water to get the best water-tight pontoon possible.

Though the ACME pontoon was built as the guide for Contractor Kiewit in building the pontoons, Kiewit used different components, prompting questions when WSDOT's expert review panel looked into the cause of the cracking last year.

"There's also the cement itself, it's a different cement," WSDOT's Expert John Reilly said. "So is that a factor in this? Probably."

And according to documents recently obtained by the Problem Solvers, Kiewit is still using different concrete components, including the Chinese cement. Consultant firm CTL, hired by Kiewit, notes in a November report that "virtually all of the materials ... are different than those used in the ACME mockup."

The report concludes, " this is a likely cause of the non-structural cracking ..." occuring the second set of pontoons.

The Problem Solvers found that cracking in Pontoon R, from the second cycle of pontoons, is so extensive that nearly all of the exterior walls that have been examined have cracks. We're still waiting for examinations of the other five pontoons in Cycle two.

Kiewit tells us, "these pontoons are made of the highest quality concrete ..." and that all the materials and concrete processes are, "... measured, tested and re-tested to ensure they are within ... the rigorous specifications spelled out in the contract."

Activist Krull doesn't buy it.

"It's larcenous incompetence in my opinion," he said.

WSDOT says that all the cracks found to date in the second set of pontoons are 'non-structural' meaning they're thinner than a sheet of paper. Kiewit says this is normal. But experts we've talked to tell us the extensive level of this cracking is a serious issue.