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Auditor zings State Parks in whistleblower investigation

Washington State Parks mismanaged contracts resulting in a “gross waste of public funds.” That’s the conclusion of an investigation prompted by a whistleblower into a project at a state marine park on Puget Sound.

It started out ten years ago as a $140,000 project to replace an RV dump station at Fort Flagler State Park on Marrowstone Island. But by the time the project was completed in 2009, the cost had ballooned to more than $7 million to replace the entire sewer and water system.

State Auditor Brian Sonntag says some of that additional cost in understandable. But most of it is not.

His investigators found the Parks department paid contractors even when new drainfield and sewer systems failed. And did not properly manage contracts.

“There’s a bigger issue of how do different state agencies get into problems like this? We’ve talked about over and over again the need for the state to really have some kind of Chief Financial Officer who oversees contracting,” says Brian Sonntag.

A State Parks spokeswoman agrees the agency’s contract management fell short at Fort Flagler. But Virginia Painter says the Department’s internal controls and training have since improved.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy as well as the Washington State legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia." Prior to joining the Northwest News Network, Austin worked as a television reporter in Seattle, Portland and Boise. Austin is a graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle and Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. Austin’s reporting has been recognized with awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated and the Society of Professional Journalists.