News On 6 Investigates: Highway Dollars

Thursday, May 3rd 2007, 10:30 pm
By: News On 6

You can blame Oklahoma's bad roads on an accident of geography, which pounds the state with extreme weather year 'round. You can also blame bad roads on an accident of geology, since much of the rock in Oklahoma is too soft to make good pavement. However, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation says there is another reason and the department says this one is no accident.

News On 6 anchor Terry Hood Reports the Oklahoma Department of Transportation says one of its biggest contractors is cutting corners. "Here's a sample of asphalt that's mixed with aggregate," says ODOT engineer Danny Gierhart. At a lab in Oklahoma City, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation checks up on its contractors. ODOT's experts put pavement to the test. They use all kinds of high- and low-tech gadgets to make sure road crews use the right materials the right way. One of the key materials is gravel, which engineers call aggregate. "There are certain properties of the aggregate that are important to us, the particle shape, the strength, the texture, and this device measures the particle strength," says Gierhart. In this lab, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation says it has proof that an Oklahoma contractor broke the law. The name of the company is Glover Construction.

Based in Muskogee, Glover Construction has completed more than 50 projects for ODOT in the last 10 years. Many of those projects are located in Muskogee County, but the company has done work all over eastern Oklahoma. In 1999, Glover won a $5-million contract to widen state Highway 64 through the town of Warner. But even before the crews finished laying the new pavement, ODOT says, problems started showing up. "You already see a patch in this picture, on US 64 while the construction is still going on. That's unheard of, these pavements are designed for a 20-year lifespan," says ODOT spokesperson Terri Angier.

Oklahoma Department of Transportation inspectors say Glover Construction crews were not careful when they put the pavement down. But they say they have proof of something more serious, that Glover Construction deliberately used bad gravel. ODOT says it can prove the company used the substandard stone in at least two other projects. The Oklahoma Department of Transportation says the stone came from a location called the Onapa Quarry. In the contract, ODOT says Glover Construction promised to buy all its stone from a different quarry. ODOT says there is a simple reason why the company used stone from the Onapa Quarry instead, Glover Construction owns it.

Last year, the multi-county grand jury indicted owner George Paul Glover and two of his employees, for ordering dump truck drivers to haul the banned stone to the job, and telling some of them to hide from state inspectors while doing it. Glover and those two employees pleaded no contest to that charge; Glover also pleaded no contest to intimidating a grand jury witness. Glover Construction is no stranger to the courts. In 1998, Glover Construction sued Haskell County. In 1999, it sued the City of Sallisaw. In 2001, Glover Construction sued McCurtain County. In 2002, it sued Pittsburg County. In 2003, Glover Construction sued the Peggs School District. In 2005, it sued the City of Miami. And last year Glover Construction sued McIntosh County and the City of Tahlequah.

"We wanted to construct a road that was safer and Stigler could be proud of," said Stigler city attorney James Smith. In 1999, the City of Stigler hired Glover Construction for a major improvement project. Only months after the road was finished, it started to crumble. The City of Stigler eventually settled with Glover Construction out of court, after getting enough money from the company to have the road repaved. "A lot of out-of-towners use this road so we wanted to construct a new road that would be nice and more impressive," says James Smith. It took two tries, but the city finally completed the project. It also took two tries for Glover Construction to finish the state Highway 64 project in Warner. But Glover Construction wants the state to pay it another $3-million for having to fix it. The company has taken ODOT to court over that claim, as well as seven others. "We believe that if you bid a project and said that you would do a certain type of work, that you should do that within the agreement that you signed off on," says ODOT spokesperson Terri Angier.

With grand jury indictments and a mountain of claims against it, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation thought it had a strong case for not allowing Glover into the bidding process. But a district court judge in Muskogee has ordered ODOT to let Glover Construction keep bidding. That judge is even considering ruling ODOT in contempt, for not actually awarding any contracts to the company, in spite of the indictments. So now, Oklahoma Department of Transportation’s top priority is officially kicking Glover Construction out of the bidding process, a complicated legal maneuver called debarment.

ODOT spokesperson Teri Angier says does not expect it to be a fast one. "I think the public needs to understand that this is a very complicated process, that just calling a contractor difficult or uncooperative isn't grounds for debarment or indicting them." In the meantime, state inspectors will be watching those other two highways where they say Glover Construction used his substandard gravel. In addition, ODOT will also be looking for signs the company used it in other projects, too. "We haven't yet, but that does not mean we don't have another 15 years to watch for those," says Terri Angier.

For Glover's "no contest" pleas in the grand jury indictments, a judge gave George Glover and his employees deferred sentences and probation. Glover also had to pay $35,000 in fines.

Glover has now filed a federal lawsuit against two Oklahoma Department of Transportation employees and the 8-member state Transportation Commission, accusing them of violating his civil rights. The News On 6 will hear from Glover's attorney, Friday night.

Watch the video: ODOT Accuses Contractor Of Cutting Corners

WEB EXTRA: ODOT Engineer Tests Aggregate Rock Watch the video.

WEB EXTRA: Aggregate Durability Test Watch the video.

Related Story:

5/4/2007 ODOT Accused Of Violating Contractors Civil Rights