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Contractor may repay some costs of $157,400 bridge site staircase

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - A contractor is talking with the state about repaying some of the $157,400 it was paid to build a wooden staircase leading down to the Interstate 35W bridge collapse site.

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - A contractor is talking with the state about repaying some of the $157,400 it was paid to build a wooden staircase leading down to the Interstate 35W bridge collapse site.

Dave Lenss, head of Graham Penn-Co Construction Inc., told the Star Tribune for an article published Thursday that his company sought and received reimbursement for equipment that it shouldn't have billed to the state.

"Some things went through that shouldn't have," said Lenss, whose Eagan-based company earns most of its revenues from state and local government agencies.

The cost of the four-day job in the days after the Aug. 1 disaster worked out to $1,311 per step.

Lenss told the newspaper the discussions with the Minnesota Department of Transportation have been preliminary, but that his company is open to repaying any undeserved money it received. He said there is no dispute with MnDOT about labor charges, which totaled $47,582.

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MnDOT spokeswoman Lucy Kender said the issue will be addressed next week at a meeting of the agency, Graham Penn-Co, and Carl Bolander & Sons Inc., the prime site cleanup contractor, which hired Graham Penn-Co to build the 120-step staircase.

Kender said MnDOT normally does not pay for tools or equipment for that type of job.

Invoices and receipts reviewed by the Star Tribune show that the company charged $4,914 to MnDOT for equipment. The items included shovels, two automatic nail guns at $459 each, sledgehammers, a pickax, a posthole digger, a rake, a chainsaw and a reciprocating saw. The company also charged the state $95 for a 10-gallon water cooler, and $27 for paper cups and a cupholder.

MnDOT commissioned the staircase to provide access for emergency workers between the MnDOT command post at the top of the Mississippi River bluff and the bridge ruins below.

Lenss told the newspaper that MnDOT told him to get the job done as quickly as possible and never questioned what the company was doing. It was faster to buy new equipment than to take tools from other job sites, he said.

But Chris Rohr, the former business development manager at Graham Penn-Co, disputed that. He told the Star Tribune he had been available throughout the project to deliver equipment, tools, supplies and food.

"There was no need to buy new tools and equipment to perform the stair construction, as Graham Penn-Co already owned all necessary tools and equipment," said Rohr, who lost his job late last year after working at the company for about six months. "I was available to quickly bring them anything they needed from Graham's existing inventory."

Lenss countered that Rohr wasn't in a position to know what tools the company had or didn't have.

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