The Columbia River Crossing (CRC) is under fire again, this time for potentially violating the Washington State Open Public Meetings Act. Tiffany Couch, principal of the Vancouver based forensic accounting firm Acuity Group, has released a report centered on the Project Sponsor’s Council (PSC), a group formed in late 2005 as a decision making body in the early stages of the CRC planning process.
The report calls into question the statements made on the record by CRC project office official, Nancy Boyd and Washington Secretary of Transportation, Paula Hammond during the August 20, 2012 Washington State Legislative Oversight Committee meeting claiming that the Project Sponsors Council did not exist until 2008 and that a different group (not the original PSC) made CRC-related decisions. [See Receorded Meeting Video here]
Documents uncovered during Ms. Couch’s review of the CRC project contradict those statements; revealing that the PSC met as early as October 2005 and made potentially-critical decisions related to the CRC project. These decisions include the approval of the Purpose and Need Statement in January of 2006, a crucial step in the Federally required NEPA planning process which justifies not only the expenditure of tax payer funds but significant environmental impacts as well.
At odds with the public claims made by the CRC and WSDOT is an internal memo dated October 2005 that in fact confirms the existence of the PSC, and among other questionable statements, includes the following language:
“The decision meetings would be open to the public, but only minimum legal notices would be provided and no display advertising would be placed. We would not encourage public participation.”
Ms. Couch’s report claims that “because the PSC was defined as a “decision making body”, and given the fact that the majority of the members of this group were elected officials; it is likely that the PSC’s meetings would have been subject to the Washington State Open Public Meetings Act (RCW 42.30).”
If it is found that the meetings held by the PSC were in fact a violation of the Open Public Meetings Act, it could potentially render all actions taken by the group as null and void. Given the impact that this could have on the CRC project, Ms. Couch concludes that a “further investigation by an agency of appropriate jurisdiction” is warranted.
Couch released her whitepaper report and supporting documents to multiple local, state and federal authorities on October 8, 2012 saying “As a Certified Public Accountant and Certified Fraud Examiner, it is my professional opinion that these questions warrant further investigation by an agency of appropriate jurisdiction” saying “That responsibility from here forward falls to you — the elected officials who run these states — in your representation of your constituents, the citizens of the states of Washington and Oregon.” That responsibility from here forward falls to you — the elected officials who run these states — in your representation of your constituents, the citizens of the states of Washington and Oregon.”
There are four reports. To see the others, see:
Report 2: Questionable accounting and contracting irregularities
Report 3: False and misleading testimony
Report 4: The real cost of tolls and debt