Victoria Taft Showing notes on her Hands

Victoria Taft shows notes scribbled on her hand.

Tiffany Couch is a forensic accountant with the Acuity Group. David Madore, a private citizen, has asked her to take a look at Columbia River Crossing’s books. KPAM host Victoria Taft asks her what she’s uncovered.

Couch reports having difficulty obtaining what she calls some of the basic accounting records of the Columbia River Crossing Light Rail project* (CRC). As a former government auditor, Couch says she expects at least a financial statement or job costing report, documents that would show total money coming in by source, total expenditures to individual vendors, and expenditures coded for rent, architecture, legal, etc. These are generic forms, Couch says, but the state has indicated it does not have them in a central repository.

As a result, Couch has been forced to ask for more detailed documents, for example expenditures. She says that if they can’t say where the money is coming from – feds, ODOT, WSDOT – “Then at least tell us who the money is being sent to.”

Couch explained that the CRC is supposed to be a joint venture between ODOT and WSDOT. However, ODOT spends some of the money and WSDOT spends some of the money, so a total tally was not available. She was only able to get Washington State expenditures from its accounting system.

What she discovered is that through December 2010, Washington’s Department of Transportation spent $108 million related to the CRC, and of that $77 million went to a single vendor, David Evans and Associates. Most of the expenditures from WSDOT to this firm were for architectural, engineering type of expenditures, and possibly the environmental impact studies. The only details that Couch has been provided have to do with Washington. “We have no idea how much has been spent from ODOT coffers to this same firm,” she said.

The CRC did provide Couch with 715 PDF files. Her frustration has been trying to figure out how all the pieces of paper relate to each other, and sometimes the frustration is just opening the file. “They’re extremely large, some of them thousands of pages of a single PDF file,” she explained.

The documents purport to detail related expenditures. “However, they were given to us in such disarray that half the battle has been opening up a file, inventorying the information in the file, and trying to disseminate all this data.”

Tiffany Couch tells Taft she cannot confirm the true number of what has actually been spent. She can’t confirm how much Oregon has spent on this project. “I really can’t confirm anything – we don’t have a financial statement of money coming in and money going out.”

Couch says the public should be able to review financial statements, and that the financial statements should be backed up by detailed documents. “They say they are not required to keep those records because this is a project underneath Washington State Department of Transportation…I do not understand at this point why we don’t have that high level data.”

* The well-documented cost to taxpayers, if the CRC stays on budget, is $10 billion. This was established by the Cortright Report (PDF) which used data from an independent review panel hired by the governors of Washington and Oregon. (View the panel’s final report.)

See our continuing coverage of the Columbia River Crossing Light Rail project.

Do you have information to share on the CRC? To respond anonymously call 260-816-1426. To allow your comments to be used on COUV.COM call 260-816-1429.