March 23, 2011 in City

Layoff notices hit county’s embattled right-of-way office

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Background

Earlier this month, WSDOT officials stripped the county of independent authority to acquire land for federally supported road projects, effective April 30.

Six Spokane County right-of-way workers received layoff notices Tuesday in the wake of severe criticism by state officials.

The notices, effective April 29, apply to everyone in the right-of-way office except the secretary, who may be assigned other duties.

County Engineer Bob Brueggeman said the layoffs could be canceled if a Washington State Department of Transportation report next week indicates the county office can be rehabilitated.

Earlier this month, WSDOT officials stripped the county of independent authority to acquire land for federally supported road projects, effective April 30.

A state review of land acquisitions for a project to rebuild Bigelow Gulch Road found numerous violations of federal regulations. Among other problems, county agents failed to tell landowners they had a right to a free appraisal.

The state transportation department is responsible for enforcing the federal rules, and now is on the hook for money spent on two phases of the $66 million Bigelow Gulch Road project. Three more phases also are in jeopardy, state officials said.

State officials say they are looking for ways to keep the project on track, but they may bill the county for any land purchases the Federal Highway Administration refuses to cover.

The state review turned up allegations of unprofessional conduct by county right-of-way supervisor Barry Lines as well as his staff. But Brueggeman said the disputed land acquisitions began under a previous supervisor.

Asked whether Lines would be fired if the right-of-way office can be salvaged, Brueggeman said, “I’m not looking for heads from existing employees.”

Brueggeman said he was required by a union contract to give 30 days notice of the potential layoffs.

Meanwhile, he said, a couple of agents are working on sewer projects but Bigelow Gulch right-of-way work has been halted until the county regains the state’s confidence.

“We don’t want to incur any additional expense on the public’s behalf,” Brueggeman said.


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email