CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A coalition of construction worker unions has won a more than 8-year legal battle, with a ruling by a Kanawha County judge that West Virginia officials wrongly evaded competitive bidding requirements for a portion of the King Coal Highway project.
Last week, Kanawha Circuit Judge James C. Stucky ruled in favor of the Affiliated Construction Trades Foundation, which filed suit in 2004 against the state Department of Transportation and its Division of Highways.
ACT Foundation lawyers alleged that the DOH gave Alpha Natural Resources subsidiary Nicewonder Contracting an illegal no-bid contract for a 14-mile stretch of the road known as the Red Jacket Section.
The case has been to the state Supreme Court and back and in a 17-page decision issued Feb. 26, Stucky said that the ACT Foundation was right.
"The Red Jacket Construction Project is a public project and it must and should comply with the laws of this state," Stucky said in his decision.
The lawsuit concerned a deal for Nicewonder to build part of the roadbed for the 93-mile road with waste rock and dirt from an adjacent mountaintop removal coal mine.
The King Coal Highway eventually would run parallel to U.S. 52 from the outskirts of Huntington to near Bluefield. The new four-lane highway would be tied into the new Interstate 73/74, which would extend from Michigan to Myrtle Beach.
In his ruling, Stucky said West Virginia law does not allow the sorts of exemptions to competitive bidding rules that proponents of the King Coal Highway have tried to create.
"The competitive bidding and prevailing-wage statutes have been enacted in an attempt to protect against the expenditure of the public's funds in a manner that violates the public policy of the state or in a manner that benefits certain parties rather than the public," the judge wrote. "It has long been the policy and the law of the state that the expenditure of public funds is not for the benefit of contractors but to protect employees from substandard wages."
DOH officials had argued that the ACT Foundation lawsuit was moot because construction of the road segment already has been completed, but Steve White, director of the labor group, said Stucky's ruling sets an important precedent.
"The reality is, the job is done or almost done," White said, "but we don't want to see any more of these contracts done. This should prevent further bad deals like this one."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.