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Gov. Gary Herbert was briefed on a $13 million settlement with a losing bidder for the Interstate 15 reconstruction contract minutes before the start of a news conference last week in which he asserted that he had no knowledge of the deal.
"Nope. This is the first I'd heard of it," Herbert said at his Sept. 13 news conference when he was asked if he knew of the $13 million payment to Flatiron/Skanska/Zachry (FSZ) after the contractor alleged it was treated unfairly in the $1.1 billion I-15 CORE reconstruction contract.
Herbert's spokeswoman, Angie Welling, said Tuesday the news conference wasn't the exact instant the governor learned of the settlement. She said he was made aware of the matter just before the start of the news conference.
"It is fair to say he was apprised of the settlement amount within a half hour before the press conference," Welling said. "The governor didn't mean right at that moment. It was just recently."
The news conference was called by the governor and his supporters at state Republican Party headquarters to counter allegations raised by the Peter Corroon for governor campaign that there appeared to be a pattern of big Herbert campaign donors receiving favored treatment by the state.
Welling said that Utah Department of Transporation executive director John Njord and UDOT spokesman Nile Easton had notified Herbert's chief of staff, Jason Perry, and Welling respectively on Sept. 9 that UDOT had settled a claim by FSZ, but did not provide the amount of the settlement. UDOT had agreed to the payment in February.
Perry and Welling learned of that Monday morning, about two hours before the governor's news conference, and that information was conveyed to the governor as they were preparing for questions the governor could expect.
"I think this clearly demonstrates another pattern of deception that the governor says one thing, that he didn't know, and in fact he did know," said Corroon campaign manager Donald Dunn. "The governor says the meetings in the governor's office had nothing to do with contributions and Angie Welling said it was in fact to thank the donors."
E-mails released by the Herbert camp showed that a fundraiser for the campaign arranged meetings between the governor and a major donor after the governor's gala last year. Welling said the meeting was to thank the donor.
A review of UDOT records showed the final selection team made enough adjustments to reverse the recommendation of the technical evaluation team. In each case, the variances worked to the advantage of Provo River Contractors, the winning bidder.
Njord told legislators last week that the trend looked unusual and, even though he was sure the bid was done properly, it prompted the department to enter into the settlement when FSZ filed a protest to the bid. He apologized for not notifying the governor and lawmakers months earlier.
Members of the Provo River Contractors have given $87,500 to Herbert's re-election campaign.
On Monday, the Utah administrator for the Federal Highway Administration, James Christian, sent a letter to Herbert stating he had observed the bid review process and saw nothing unusual.
"The selection of the Provo River Constructors as the prime contractor for the I-15 CORE project was fair and objective and met the federal competitive selection requirements to be eligible for federal-aid funding," he wrote.