The Odessa Record -

By Rob Coffman
Lincoln Co. Commissioner 

Commish's Corner

Shakin' my head—SMH...


October 26, 2017

The more time I spend serving the people of Lincoln County, the more things I see that make me shake my head. When I first got elected, I knew that there would be plenty of hurdles standing in the way of progress. Overcoming some of these issue would be an inviting challenge. But in reality, there are not enough hours in a day, so you have to learn to pick your battles.

So, I thought I would take some time to describe just a few of those battles that the public may not be aware of.

Parking lots:

The parking lots at many county offices have been in drastic need of repair for quite some time. And we have the funds available in a dedicated account for necessary repairs such as this. So, several years ago we sent out a Request for Proposals to fix these parking lots. A minor error was made in the preparation of the bid documents by the county, and the template that was used was for “goods” (which does not require a bond) and not “services” (that does require a bond).

After receiving several proposals, we awarded the bid to the lowest bidder. They subsequently sent the contract back for us to sign, with no bond attached. That’s when we discovered our mistake. A bond is required by law for all types of this work, regardless of the bid documents. So, the county contacted the successful bidder and offered to pay for the cost of the bond, just to do the right thing. Sounds reasonable, right? Well, the successful bidder did not agree and promptly filed a lawsuit against Lincoln County, claiming, of all things, “gender discrimination.”

It’s only been three years, and this crazy suit against the county is still not settled. We have prevailed every step along the way, including with the Court of Appeals. Even after that favorable decision, the plaintiff filed a motion for reconsideration, which was denied by the court. Happy with what we thought was the final verdict this summer, we moved forward with the paving project. Ironically, about the same time that we awarded the new contract, we got notice that the plaintiff has asked the Supreme Court for discretionary review… We’re fixing the parking lots regardless!

Oh, the cost of this litigation, you ask? Well, the county has insurance for this type of lawsuit so our out-of-pocket cost is our deductible, $10,000. The insurance company is in well over $30,000. SMH…

Courthouse elevator:

This last June, for no apparent reason, the elevator in the courthouse suddenly stopped working. OK, it’s not that unusual, as that has happened many times its 22-year life-span. People have even gotten stuck in between floors in it! This time however, the company that we contract with for elevator maintenance, could not make it work. They tried everything, including replacing every computer board. Except the one in the car itself. Apparently this board is special! Since the company no longer makes this elevator, there is not one of these particular boards in existence. After we requested representatives of the elevator company attend a commission meeting to explain to us why our elevator could not be fixed, a possible solution was presented – to have this “only board known to man” sent in for repairs. By a third party. With no guarantee. Or, option 2, replace the entire elevator to the tune of a couple hundred grand.

Seems like an appropriate gamble, right, since it would be way cheaper than the alternative? Well, the gamble didn’t pay off.

So, we are now contracted with another elevator maintenance company who will be doing a modernization of the elevator for a whole lot less money.

In the meanwhile, we are trying our best to make every accommodation for folks who need to access the second and third floors. But still, almost five months and no elevator.

Shouldn’t be too much longer, SMH…

Porcupine Bay Road:

On April 2, a large portion of the Porcupine Bay Road slid into Lake Roosevelt, leaving many of our citizens without public access to their property. Our public works staff immediately began working on a fix. Through their hard work, we were able to secure federal funding from the Federal Emergency Relief Program for 86.5 percent of the project. Just the application for this program takes a huge amount of effort, and all of the federal requirements must be followed to a tee. The National Park Service has also committed a substantial amount to offset some of our match, so hopefully there will not be much coming out of the county coffers for the fix.

From the public’s perspective, it would seem like the road should have been fixed by now. But the reality is, this project is far more complex than one would think. Securing the services of a consultant, geo-technical engineers and design engineers was a process we were able to expedite because of the emergent situation. Other processes require adhering to federal guidelines, such as right-of-way acquisition where the Uniform Act must be followed. Even though we knew all along that we would need to secure some amount of private land to complete the project, the exact amount was unknown until the final design was approved. Only then could the county officially start the acquisition process, which involves an appraisal, a second appraisal (just to be sure!) and then, finally, negotiations with the property owner (which, by the way, can only be conducted via snail mail, not email, telephone or even in person!)

The areas surrounding the project also needed to be surveyed in order to determine the correct right-of-way. This was done as soon as possible in the process but still required much effort as some old surveys were incorrect.

Engineers require huge amounts of data in order for them to place their stamp on any project, especially something as technical as this slide. Elevation data, seismic data, slope monitoring data all had to be collected and processed before any designs could be presented. The designs were narrowed down to the top three and with the recommendation of the engineering firm, a final design was recently selected.

Now that we have a final design, the consultants are expeditiously working on a right-of-way plan. Once that plan has been approved by Highways & Local Programs (a division of WSDOT that administers the federal money), only then can we proceed with the right-of-way cost estimates, the appraisal, appraisal review, negotiations with the property owner, acquisition of the property and certification of the right-of-way. Then, we can go out to bid for the construction of the repair!

Many aspects of this project have made me shake my head. My neck is getting sore! None of this pertains to the fine folks in our public works department who have gone above and beyond on this project. Many, many hours of behind-the-scenes work have been spent in this effort to make sure that we have a safe, reliable road for the public to use. Unless you have ever dealt with the federal government and the state of Washington on a project such as this, it’s hard to understand the enormity of the work involved and why something like this would take so long. Our public works director Rick Becker and his team definitely deserve kudos for their efforts.

I need a neck rub.


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