PROBING THE ASHOKAN DAM CONTRACT.
The investigation, ordered by Mayor McClellan, into the letting of the contract for building the Ashokan dam to the MacArthur Brothers and the Winston company instead of to the John Peirce company, whose bid was $2,354,425 less, is going on before the New York city’s commissioners of accounts. The three commissioners, whose act caused the investigation, are J. Edward Simmons, Charles N. Chadwick and Charles A. Shaw. In starting the investigation, John Purroy Mitchell, the chairman, said that the investigators had retained engineering experts and received their report, which held that there was no need of the rejection of the Peirce bids. President J. Edward Simmons, of the board of water supply, said that the board considered that it might be well to award the work to other than the lowest—a power that it possessed under the law. Commissioner Chadwick had an interview with Mr. Peirce, in which the latter “admitted that he had built the Hall of Records, and that it took ten years to build it, while it was originally intended to have it erected in three years. It was found that four out of the five bidders for the dam had based their bid* on knowledge, and that one of them, Mr. Peirce, had based his on lack of knowledge; and, therefore, in accordance with the power invested in it by the law, the board awarded the contract according to its best judgment and rejected the lowest bid. The bid of the lowest bidder was much below the cost of excavation, and, besides, was based on a lack of knowledge and experience.” In the course of the investigation it turned out that Commissioner Simmons, whose salary as commissioner is $12,000 a year, is also president of a very important body, the Chamber of Commerce, and, as such, an ex officio member of the rapid transit commission, besides being an active director in several other corporations, stated that two other bids had already been awarded; but he could recall them. The full board had visited the site of the dam twice; the individuals, oftener; he himself, three times. As a mere banker he had had no experience iti awarding bids; no banker ever had. lie thought Commissioner Chadwick, at a meeting of the board, was the first to call his attention to the fact that the Peirce bid was too low. lie did not doubt the financial ability of Mr. Peirce, only his ability to finish the work in time. Tne engineers of the board advised it that the Peirce bid was too low. They gave no reasons. “If they had,” added Mr. Simmons, “l could not have understood them. 1 am not an’engineer. To prepare engineering work is what 1 employ them for. I do not understand such technical matters. ” Mr. Simmons stated that the bids were opened on August 6, and the award was made on August 26 after several conferences had been held. He had attended only one or two of these conferences, as he was spending his vacation at lake Mohonk. which was “on the line of work, not near Ashokan, but “on the route of the aqueduct.” He thought he had seen Mr. Ridgeway, one of the engineers twice, and the other commissioners, with Chief Engineer J. Waldo Smith, had also gone to see Mr. Ridgeway. After consideration Mr. Simmons said he was not postitive that between August 6 and 26 -when the conferences over the awarding of the bids were being held—he had been at the office at all; but he thought he had. lie contended that lie gave the work all the time it required, even though lie did not go to the office every day. Chief Engineer Smith had said lie was sure the Peirce bid was too low to admit of satisfactory work. Personally lie himself had no idea as to the cost of the work and had made no attempt to find out. Not being an engineer, he had accepted the verdict of the chief of the engineers as to the Peirce bid, and had not asked the opinion of any outside engineer or contractor on the subject. He had acquiesced in the rejection of the Peirce bid. because he implicitly trusted the opinion of the engineers that it was too low, and that the work could not be finished in time. Mr. Simmons seemed surprised on reading over the contract to find that it contained a clause impowering the chief engineer to forfeit the $1,000,000 bond and take over the contract without delay, lie nail taken no steps to intorm mmseli as to Mr. Peirce’s experience in excavation work. It had practically amounted to the engineers advising and tile board s satisfying contracts, althougn on one occasion the board did award one contract against Engineer smitn s advice. He taought it was the McNally contract, but lie could not tell wnetner it was a $5,000,000 or $15,000,000 contract, lie was unable to tell anything about any ol the contracts tnat hau been let. lo many questions he took reluge in the reply: “1 don t remember. It was brought out tnat none 01 the consulting engineers visited Ashokan. i’neir reports were based on Clnel Engineer Smiths report. Commissioner Shaw testmed along the same lines as Mr. Simmons. When duel engineer J. Waldo Smith was examined, he was torced to acknowledge that he was not sure that John Peiree’s bid lor the Ashokan dam was too low. inis admission was drawn lrom Mr. bmitn, alter lie had admitted that lie made no itemised estimate ot tne cost 01 tne dam and could not tell anything about the cost of any given part of tne work, lie got very hot when asked to demonstrate the correctness ot his offhand estimate ol the cost ol the Ashokan dam and brusquely refused, admitting mat he really had very little hrst-hand knowledge on which to base 111s ligures, and tnat ne had never been in a position to state absolutely that Peirces bid was below actual cost. Commissioner Mitchell asked Mr. bmitn a lot of technical questions during the day, as to how he, the witness, arrived at certain conclusions as to what tne cost ot tne work ought to be. When Air. bmith testified that steam shovels might lo remove 400 cub. yds. ol dirt a nay each, Mr. Mitchell ordered a blackboard brought 111, with the intention ol having the probable cost 01 excavation hgured out right then and there. Mr. Smith said he could not talk olthand of what the cost would be; but that, it the commissioners would submit their ligures, he would ligure the tiling out. Un being asked 11 he had made an analysis of tilepay ol tne employes who w-ouid be engaged on work of the character under discussion, he declared that he had not, and added that he could not make it then, “because (he saidj 1 don 1 care to, and you can t lorce me to, because 11 is not within the scope ol this inquiry.” Another point on which Mr. Smith was at a loss, was on tne probable cost ot a plant with whicn to do the work, such as the contractor would need. He said at first between $1,000,000 to $5,000,000, and, when reminded that on the previous day he had said twice as much, he declared his final estimate was a mistake. liehad founded his beliet as to the Peirce bid 011 his experience of twenty years, and he could not and would not figure out the cost per cubic yard of excavating earth, “because flic insisted; 1 won’t. I’m not here for that, and, besides, 1 don’t think it would be worth anything. 1 understand that some of the bidders made up their estimates that way; but 1 don’t follow that plan.” He did not know that he had ever heard of an earth embankment, the cost of which was as high as the prices in MacArthur’s bid. He declared it to be impossible to make an accurate estimate in advance of what it might cost to build such a large dam as that to be constructed at Ashokan, and that, in deciding that the Pcjrce bid was too low, he acted on a sort of general judgment and because four out of the five bidders had put in figures which agreed with his own ideas of what the work would cost. He refused to commit himself to any definite opinion on the question of how many feet of earth a steam shovel would excavate in a day, how much it would cost to run the shovel, and how large a crew would be required to operate it. He had never given a thought as to what size of bucket would be best fitted to excavate the earth at Ashokan. Nor could he give even some estimate of the cost of running a steam shovel per day. He had never made an estimate of such a cost. The importance of these answers to the apparently trivial matter of the operating of a steam shovel lay in the fact that the bid of the John Peirce company was rejected, solely because it was contended InMr. Smith anil the consulting engineers called in by the board of water supply that the bids made for .earth excavations by the Peirce company were too low. He thought that the value of tlie plant erected by the contractor fur the building of the Croton dam was about $1,500,000. It was brought out the day before that the value of that plant had been placed by the contracting firm at about $300,000.