WASHINGTON, DC (WUSA9)-- A probe by WUSA9 Investigations, in collaboration with WUSA9 Call for Action, has revealed a smelly situation with a price tag of $14 million along the C&O Canal involving DC Water and the National Park Service.
Watch the video to see DC Water officials try to explain added costs, claims the project was "completed," and not even knowing the project's actual status until our investigation.
Despite a June 4 ribbon cutting and news release calling it "completed," and millions spent beyond projections, parts of a long-awaited sewage air filtering system and brand new public restrooms remain closed under lock and key - two years past its original completion date.
Right now there are "DANGER" and "KEEP OUT" signs at one of the sites that is supposed to provide bathrooms and odor abatement technology. Other sites are only just now in a testing phase - all have remained listed as "completed" by DC Water since June.
"There have been a lot of missed deadlines," DC Water General Manager George Hawkins admitted in our interview.
Old Angler's Inn and Fletcher's Boathouse, two picturesque places along the C&O Canal Trail, are sites on what DC Water calls the Potomac Interceptor Long-Term Odor Abatement Program.
The idea was to build a series of air filtration structures along the canal at populated places where the smell of underground sewage - 60 million gallons a day, flowing through the DMV on a route to the water treatment plant - has bothered visitors.
Two of those pump houses, at Fletcher's Boathouse and Old Angler's Inn, were designed with public restrooms.
A complaint lodged with WUSA9's Call for Action last May sparked our investigation.
Call for Action in action
Call for Action
volunteers contacted DC Water, and were told that there would be "a grand opening in a few weeks," which, if true, would have meant that the buildings would be unlocked by May or June at the latest.
There was a grand opening June 4, officiated by C&O Canal Historical Trail Park Superintendent Kevin Brandt, and DC Water General Manager George Hawkins.
They cut a ribbon in front of the doorway to the restroom at Fletcher's Boathouse, posed for pictures and made speeches.
Listed as "Completed," completely locked closed
Yet the bathrooms at Fletcher's Boathouse were still locked in August - in fact, they had never opened. WUSA9 found the identical situation - locked bathrooms, portable toilets -- at Old Angler's Inn, another site on the odor abatement project and the second that was designed with public restrooms.
Almost two months after the ribbon cutting, an employee answered the phone at the equipment rental desk at Fletcher's Boathouse and confirmed that the restrooms there were locked.
He said it was because DC Water and the National Park Service were "arguing over who's going to change the toilet paper."
After WUSA9's repeated inquiries, just before Labor Day, DC Water handed over the keys to the restrooms at Fletcher's Boathouse to the National Park Service.
But to date, at Old Angler's Inn, the doors remain locked.
Park Service points at DC Water
The National Park Service blames DC Water for the holdup.
"DC Water is not ready to turn over the building [at Old Angler's Inn] to our use and occupancy, but based on the most recent conversations, they have said they hope it will be sometime this month," says Brandt, the C&O Canal National Historical Park Superintendent. "As soon as we are able to use the buildings we will open them to the public. We have long agreed that we would maintain and operate the restroom part of the building and they [DC Water] would control the odor abatement part of the building."
The bathrooms are only one component of the multi-million dollar project, but WUSA9 found out during this investigation that the central function of the project isn't fully working, either.
Completed or not completed
The Fletcher's Boathouse site - the one that prompted our viewer's complaint, back in May - is the only piece of this project that is truly on-line. It was at this site that the ribbon cutting ceremony took place, and while the odor abatement system worked here at the time, DC Water's press releases claimed that the entire project was completed as of June 4.
DC Water Spokesman John Lisle tells WUSA9 that two other odor-abatement facilities in Maryland, each without public restrooms, "are currently being tested to ensure they operate properly."
The entire project, originally estimated to cost $9.7 million and be completed in 2011, has now cost $14 million and remains under construction.
Corinthian Contractors, Inc., is the builder.
"We have not accepted the facility at Old Angler's Inn from the contractor," Lisle says. "In order to reach Beneficial Occupancy, the contractor needs to... complete punch list items. Then NPS (National Park Service) will be notified and they can assume ownership of the restrooms."
But why would DC Water issue a press release and have a ribbon-cutting for a project that was so far from finished? Lisle never answered that question.
GM: Issues "beyond our control"
We made the first of repeated requests to interview DC Water's GM, Hawkins, on September 5th.
We were granted permission to interview Hawkins weeks later.
When questioned about apparent delays that have plagued the odor-abatement program, Hawkins told WUSA9, "All of our estimates on time completion are totally dependent on issues, many of which are completely beyond our control."
Hawkins told WUSA9 that he would look into whether the restrooms at Old Angler's Inn could be opened to the public even if the contractor is still tweaking the odor-abatement side of the project.
The GM also expressed regrets if the ribbon-cutting and press release mislead anyone as to the completeness of the odor abatement program as a whole.
Just today, September 30, DC Water spokesman Lisle told us via email that the water utility may grant the National Park Service permission to open the Old Angler's restrooms this week. Updates to come.