Sen. Murkowski angry about delay in Army hospital

Posted: Sunday, February 18, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Alaska Sen. Frank Murkowski is angry with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a delay in plans for a new Army hospital at Fort Wainwright.

The $130 million project to replace 47-year-old Bassett Army Community Hospital is on hold because contractors' bids to build the 250,000-square-foot structure exceeded the federal government's budget. Murkowski blamed the corps for not anticipating the high bids.

The senator also said contractors are leery of working for the Department of Defense because of problems that surfaced when a new hospital was built at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage. Contractors, who were locked into a price, allegedly lost money on that project and litigation followed.

''We've got a situation where the contractors are scared to death,'' Murkowski said at a briefing Saturday on the new hospital.

The senator, who holds a seat on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, is in Alaska accompanying Anthony Principi, the Bush administration's secretary of Veterans Affairs, on tours of veterans facilities in the state.

Murkowski criticized the Corps for not checking back with consultants who, before the project went out to bid, had said that the project's parameters corresponded with the project's budget.

The Army is faced with either scaling down plans for the new hospital, seeking more money or persuading contractors the project is well-planned and hope they lower their estimates.

Ground near Bassett has already been dug up in preparation for the new hospital. The project came to a halt late last month while the Corps analyzes the construction market, said Steven T. Perrenot, U.S. Army colonel and district engineer.

He suspects the construction market is to blame because contractors seem to have enough work. Perrenot said coupled with that is an anticipated construction boom, especially if the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is opened, a natural gas pipeline is built and a National Missile Defense System gets the go-ahead.

Murkowski scoffed at that reasoning.

''ANWR is a long way off,'' he said.

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