Judge again postpones decision in Narrows Bridge suit
June 12, 2008 · Updated 10:25 AM
"A Thurston County Superior Court judge has once again postponed issuing a ruling in a lawsuit that would bring all work on the proposed second Tacoma Narrows Bridge to a halt until legal challenges to the plan are resolved.Judge Richard Strophy was to have handed down his decision on July 6, but he announced on Monday he had moved the date back to Aug. 3. The delay is the third Strophy has issued in the case, which pits the Peninsula Neighborhood Association (PNA) against the state Department of Transportation (WSDOT) and United Infrastructure Washington, the private company selected to build the $800 million span.PNA prevailed last November in an earlier lawsuit when the state Supreme Court declared WSDOT's design-build contract with United Infrastructure unenforceable because it violated several Washington laws.Bridge supporters believed the problem would be easily corrected once the legislature convened by simply rewriting the laws shown to have been broken. In the meantime, United Infrastructure continued to prepare for construction by doing design studies and acquiring right of way as though nothing had changed.PNA responded in January with a second lawsuit, asking Strophy to suspend all activity - and block the spending of any more public money - until the contract could be brought back into compliance with state law.The question is whether 'unenforceable' means 'illegal,' said state Rep. Pat Lantz, D-Gig Harbor. The Supreme Court said the contract was unenforceable. The defendants assume that means the contract as a whole is still in force but just needs some minor changes. Peninsula Neighborhood Association, however, believes the Supreme Court's ruling effectively invalidated the contract, meaning neither the state nor United Infrastructure has the right to spend taxpayer money fulfilling an agreement that no longer exists.If I had a contract with someone to sell me marijuana and they didn't do it, I couldn't expect to sue them for breach of promise, because the contract was based on something that's illegal in the first place, said bridge opponent Randy Boss. It's the same thing here. The state's contract with United Infrastructure was based on violations of the law, therefore there is no contract. You can't say the contract is in force just because every single aspect of it isn't illegal. If any part of it is illegal, the whole contract is illegal.Washington state lawmakers could have spared Strophy the burden of making a decision if they had agreed on a legislative remedy to the bridge dilemma during the regular session or either of the two special sessions they have endured. But they remain deadlocked over competing House and Senate versions of the bridge plan with a third special session set to convene on July 16.This latest postponement comes at the request of United Infrastructure's lawyers, leading to speculation a compromise deal is in the works that would settle the matter without the court's intervention. But whether seven months of gridlock can be ended in a few weeks of work remains to be seen.This will be the last delay, Boss predicted. Either the legislature pulls a rabbit out of its hat during this next special session, or the project will finally die and we'll all have a chance to take a breather and then sit down and find the real solution to congestion at the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. The judge won't put up with this crap any longer. "