Portland, OR In the ongoing Columbia River Crossing saga, you'd be hard-pressed to find tighter allies than the Washington Department of Transportation and David Evans & Associates.
One is the powerful road-building agency whose staffers lead the CRC. The other is a Portland engineering firm hired by WashDOT to be the CRC prime contractor.
Yet, these two organizations seemingly joined at the hip find themselves on the opposite sides of a lawsuit filed in Thurston County Superior Court in Olympia Wash.
David Evans quietly sued WashDOT last month to block the agency from releasing its audited financial statements. Notolls.com, an anti-CRC group, had filed a public records request with the CRC seeking the financial information.
Evans also named as a defendant Debbie Peterson, who filed the public records request with the CRC. Peterson works for Tiffany Couch, a Vancouver forensic accountant who is working for David Madore, a Vancouver businessman and vocal CRC opponent.
As a publicly funded project, the CRC is subject to disclosure laws. State and federal public records laws allow the public to ask for specific contracts, internal memos and emails and other information. In this case, however, Evans said it is entitled to keep its own financial records secret.
"What's in the audit is considered proprietary by David Evans," said Steve Pierce, a WashDOT spokesman. "They have a right to seek an injunction and they did. Our hands are tied."
Evans officials declined to comment. In court filings, the company argued that "release of the information serves no public purpose." What's more, the company points out it is privately held and has steadfastly tried to keep confidential the financial details of its operations.
Yet, outside scrutiny is inevitable for Evans, which is the largest single contractor on a hugely controversial, $3.1 billion public works project. It has already been paid more than $30 million by the CRC.
The beef is a potential public relations problem for the CRC, which tirelessly voices its devotion to openness and transparency. That means hosting countless public meetings for various stakeholder groups. But it also means fielding dozens of public records requests from groups that feel the project is a misguided waste of taxpayer dollars.
Notolls.com is one of them. Couch, the accountant hired by the group, said the request for the Evans financials was one of series of records requests she's filed.
"We have been asked to perform a review of how public money has been spent on the CRC project; starting from the bidding process when the project began in 2005 through present day expenditures," she said.
According to court files, WashDOT had notified David Evans that it intended to release the company's financial records on Sept. 17.
Evans responded by filing the lawsuit. It later obtained a temporary restraining order.