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Judge: W.Va. can't evade bidding on road project

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - A circuit judge has ruled that the state wrongly awarded a contract without competitive bidding to a coal company for construction of a segment of the King Coal Highway in southern West Virginia.

"The Red Jacket Construction Project is a public project and it must and should comply with the laws of this state," Kanawha County Circuit Court Judge James Stucky wrote in his decision.

Last week's ruling came in a 2004 lawsuit filed against the Department of Transportation and the Division of Highways by the Affiliated Construction Trades Foundation, The Sunday Gazette-Mail (http://bit.ly/1002u3Y) reported.

ACT had argued that the state awarded an illegal, no-bid contract awarded to Nicewonder, a subsidiary of Alpha Natural Resources, for a 14-mile section of the highway. It contended that let Alpha pay workers less than federal law requires.

Stucky said in his ruling that the types of competitive bidding exemptions that proponents of the highway have tried to create are not allowed by state law.

"The competitive bidding and prevailing-wage statutes have been enacted in an attempt to protect against the expenditure of the public's funds in a manner that violates the public policy of the state or in a manner that benefits certain parties rather than the public," Stucky wrote. "It has long been the policy and the law of the state that the expenditure of public funds is not for the benefit of contractors but to protect employees from substandard wages."

Under the contract, Nicewonder used waste rock and dirt from an adjacent mountaintop removal coal mine to build part of the roadbed for the highway.

"The reality is, the job is done or almost done," ACT director Steve White told the newspaper, "but we don't want to see any more of these contracts done. This should prevent further bad deals like this one."

When completed, the four-lane King Coal Highway will run from outside Huntington to near Bluefield.


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