FERMCO admits false statements

Subcontractor wants its name cleared


BY MIKE GALLAGHER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The company hired to clean up Fernald ''lied'' and tried to ruin the reputation of a subcontractor to hide its own serious design and management mistakes, the president of the subcontracting company said Wednesday.

And officials of the Fernald Environmental Restoration Management Co. (FERMCO) admit they issued false statements last week about the subcontractor, R.E. Schweitzer Construction Co.

''The fact of the matter is that it was FERMCO's mistakes that led to most of the construction problems at the project, not because we did everything wrong as they're trying to say,'' said Schweitzer Co. president Ron Schweitzer. ''And to make matters worse, FERMCO then lied about us to the media to try and discredit us.''

In a March 7 press release, FERMCO spokesman Jack Hoopes admitted false statements were made against the Schweitzer Co., ''due to an oversight.''

The trouble between the two companies began after Schweitzer Co. officials were quoted in a March 3 Enquirer story that revealed myriad construction problems during the building of a pilot plant designed to test a process for disposing of radioactive waste.

Hundreds of FERMCO documents obtained by The Enquirer revealed the pilot plant's construction problems. Those problems included faulty welds, ''pathetic'' concrete work, and chipped, damaged and porous walls and floors that were never properly fixed and could later lead to a radiation contamination problem.

In the article, Schweitzer Co. vice president Dan Lynch said that he had warned FERMCO officials about the walls and floor problems and the need to fix them - and even offered to repair them - but that FERMCO said no. Mr. Lynch said FERMCO officials were more concerned about quickly completing the project so they could earn a performance fee from the U.S. Department of Energy.

After the article appeared, FERMCO officials issued a press release criticizing the quality of Schweitzer Co.'s work in 1994 and 1995, and stating that FERMCO was in litigation with the company over the shoddy work. It also said that contracts with the company had been terminated and that Schweitzer Co. had been barred from any future contracts at Fernald.

After Schweitzer Co. officials complained, FERMCO officials admitted in the March 7 press release that they were not in litigation with Schweitzer Co., and that none of its three contracts with the subcontractor had been terminated.

FERMCO's March 7 press release also said The Enquirer ''accurately'' reported the construction problems at the project.

''The reasons there were so many problems at the pilot plant is because FERMCO kept changing the design plans,'' Mr. Schweitzer said. ''We'd finish something and then they would tell us to change it. They even told us to start various jobs before design plans were even completed for them. It was crazy. And now they're trying to blame us.''

Schweitzer company lawyer Tom Luken said FERMCO has no legal authority to bar any company from work at Fernald; only the Energy Department can do that.

Energy Department spokesman Gary Stegner said the matter is under review and the construction and safety issues raised by The Enquirer will be investigated by the Energy Department and the U.S. General Accounting Office.

Published March 14, 1996.