SANDPOINT — The lead superintendent on construction to replace the Dover Bridge on U.S. Highway 2 was sentenced to three years of probation for trying to conceal substandard work on the new span.
Judge B. Lynn Winmill sentenced Kip David Harris in U.S. District Court in Coeur d’Alene on Tuesday, according to U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson. Winmill also ordered Harris to pay a $750 fine.
Harris, a former Sletten Construction employee, was accused of directing laborers on the $22 million bridge replacement project to modify non-conforming anchor bolts so it would appear to inspectors that the bolts were in compliance.
Since the project was largely funded through the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act of 2009, investigators from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General and the FBI probed the allegations.
Harris was interviewed by agents in June 2011 and admitted that he directed workers to modify the bolts so they would pass inspection, according to court documents.
Harris, a 38-year-old from Boulder, Mont., was indicted last September on a charge of making a false statement regarding a federal-aid project. He pleaded guilty the following December.
Harris was advised by laborers that anchor bolts embedded in bridge pier caps were either improperly installed or had sunken after concrete was poured, court documents indicate. As a result, nuts would not fit on some of the bolts or would only partially engage them.
Harris did not install the anchor bolts, although court documents do not specify who did. Harris said he decided to conceal the substandard bolts until a proper solution could be determined.
Harris told investigators that he witnessed superintendents on two prior jobs encounter a similar problem, prompting them to attach small pieces of bolt to lengthen them.
Harris, court documents said, directed laborers to take short pieces of bolt and thread them through nuts. The assemblies were then attached to anchor bolts embedded in piers and abutments using J-B Weld, an epoxy adhesive. Laborers were further counseled by Harris to paint the short bolt ends to conceal tool marks indicating they were cut.
An Office of Inspector General’s report indicates Harris was deeply conflicted about his actions.
Harris knocked some of the doctored bolts off with a hammer on one of the piers to reveal their insufficiency and began driving home. After driving about 60 miles, Harris doubled back to the project site and tack welded the doctored bolts back on, but realized they still did not look right.
Harris did not tell his superiors or the Idaho Transportation Department because of the project’s momentum.
“Harris said there was a lot of pressure to get the job done on time and ahead of schedule and to not lose money,” Special Agent Colby Britton said in his report.
As many as 28 bolts on the project were doctored.
Harris’s misconduct amounted to a felony offense that’s punishable by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The inspector general’s report indicated that Harris’ attempted cover-up created no serious safety issues.
Harris’s defense counsel, Jim Siebe, argued against incarceration because his client has already suffered consequences and refuses to blame anyone else for his misconduct. Harris works for an unspecified highway district at substantially reduced pay, can no longer hunt and is forbidden from being involved in federally-funded projects.
“Consequently, he has suffered immeasurable humiliation and economic harm,” Siebe said in a sentencing memo.
A condition of Harris’s probation requires him to conduct presentations at a local middle school and a high school to describe the circumstances of his case, his lapse in judgment and the consequences of his actions.
A message seeking comment from ITD was not returned on Wednesday.