THE ASHOKAN DAM INVESTIGATION.
Last week appeared a digest of the evidence taken before Mayor McClellan’s commission of investigation in connection with the awarding of the contract for the construction of the Ashokan dam. This week the digest is continued. This is done for two reasons (I) because the work, though local, is of such importance as to command the attention of waterworks men everywhere, and (2) because it is only one of a series of provisionary dams that are being built all over the United States, and, therefore, is of interest to all hydraulic engineers and contractors for such undertakings.
Chief Engineer Smith, who, in the beginning ot his examination, seemed to state that it was due to him that the Peirce bid had been rejected, in tinend admitted that, in the case of the Cross river dam, the Peekskill aqueduct as well as that of the Ashokan dam, the bid of the. MacArthur Brothers and the Winston company was the next under the engineer’s estimate, lie added that he thought that, in the case of the Cross river dam, the difference between their bid and his estimate was about five and two-tenths per cent.; in the Peekskill aqueduct seven and five-tenths per cent., and in Ashokan dam, one and four-tenths per cent, lie was absolutely sure that every precaution was taken in his office to prevent the figures on which the estimates were based from coming to the knowledge of prospective bidders. He had taken the whole matter ot investigating tlu’ contractors into his own hands, lie said he interviewed Contractor Peirce almost a week before Commissioner Chadwick saw him. tie had sent for him, because he wanted to satisfy himself regarding bis views as to the price of his bid. Jt was two days after he returned from Europe, and he thought it was before Com missioner Chadwick saw him. Mr. Peirce seemed all at sea in the matter, but had said he would leave it in the hands of the chief engineer. On being told that his bid was too low. Mr. Peirce suggested that the bids should be readvertised. Chief Engineer Smith subsequently recall’d that statement and said that Contractor John B. Macdonald had made the suggestion already referred to. He stated that Contractor John B. Macdonald was to l»e associated with Mr. Peirce in the contract. He had recommended that MacArthur Brothers and Winston & Co, should be awarded the Cross river contract, because, they had a good plant. At the same time he admitted that they were not the only bidders who had a plant, nor were they the lowest bidders, but were next to the highest out of seven bidders. They were not the only bidders who had had experience, as one of the bidders built the Croton dam, and in the Cross river dam, the Peekskill aqueduct and the Ashokan dam, in all of which he was chief engineer, MacArthur Brothers and Winston & Co. were the bidders next under his estimate. They also nearly got the Peekskill aqueduct contract. Two other district engineers absolutely refused to answer the questions put to them, unless they were allowed to answer them in their own way. Professor W illiam If. Burr, of Columbia University, one of the consulting engineers of the board of water supply, defended the commissioners’ award, after Department Engineer Davis and another bad been briefly examined, and ignorance as to ‘hard-pan” had been confessed, and Chief Engineer Smith had denied the impossibility of there having been any leak from his office as to the estimates for bids. Pro fessor Burr stated that he had paid frequent visits to the site of the dam and made himself thoroughly acquainted with the quality of the ground, etc. When the bids were opened, it struck him that the “lowest hid was very low,” when judged by the “general standard of comparison wh’ch .an engineer gets after being familiar with a work.” He had made no estimate of his own. but had taken the “usual steps, procuring data as to the cost of such work.” When interviewed .by the witness, the vicepresident of the Peirce comnanv, shortly after the bids were opened, was “at first positive that his bid was all right.” while prr fessor Burr had an “idea that they had obtained their figures from Oliver, because of their association with him in tb** Panama maPer.” He had also discussed the bid with Contractor John B. Macdonald, who. he had understood, was a well qtraflfi’d as certain of the other bidders” to ma’-e a hid of such a kind as excavation work called foa remark which seemed to surprise Commissioner Mitchel. Professor Burr finally opined that-Mr. Macdonq’d was “not making estimates at present, as he was engaged on administrative work.” ‘1 he professor said that Mr. Freeman, one of his associate consulting engineers, at first thought the Peirce bid high enough for all profit-making purposes; but afterwards changed his opinion. As to the MacArthur Bros.: He did not know whether they had had any experience in making rolled earth embankments, or that ‘their general waterworks experience would be of value.” Experience in building a masonry dam would not help them in building a rolled earth embankment. A representative of that firm, the witness said, had interviewed him both before and after its bid had been put in. The three reports of the consulting engineers which advised against the Peirce bid had been written after they had conferred together; they had then expressed their opinions separately. John Peirce, president of the John Peirce company, the lowest but not the successful bidder for the dam, thought there would have been a profit of $1,000,000 or $2,500,000 in his company’s contract, which lie did not think profit enough. At no time, however, was his testimony to the effect that there would have been any loss in carrying out the contract. He dedal ed flatly that, if the contract had been awarded to his company, it would have been fulfilled. He was in Europe when the bid was made, and Contractor John B. MacDonald, who was with him at the time, offered Him the use of his office in the preparation of the bid. Emil Diebitsch, vicepresident of his company, an expert engineer and a son-in-law of Mr. MacDonald, visited the site of tlie dam before they figured on the bid. Ernest C Moore, who had been with Contractor MacDonald during the building of the subway, had a great deal to do with the figures on excavation and embankment, with which the chief fault was found by the water board’s engineers. When the witness returned and looked over .the figures, he was c iivineed that there would be a profit on the job, even though lie thought the figures on embankment and excavation were low. Asked how much profit, he replied between $2,000,000 and $2,500,000. He thought, however, that this was not sufficient profit ini a job which was to extend over such a period of time. When he called on J. Waldo Smith, the board’s engineer, he testified, lie was willing to be excused from carrying out the contract, if the board wanted to excuse him. He thought lie had told Mr. Smith and one of the commissioners that, in his opinion, his figures on excavation and embankment were too low; but lie was not certain. He could not remember that Chief Engineer Smith or any member of the commission asked him if he expected to come out ahead on the whole contract, nor that he told Chief Engineer Smith that the margin of profit on the whole job was too low for him to care about taking it. He fully expected at least a tenper-cent. margin. Mr. MacDonald might, perhaps, have come in with him on the work, and the Olivers, who had bid for the Panama contract, had telegraphed that they would like to get in. One of the Olivers, who had visited the Ashokan site, had told the Peirce company that its figures on earthworks were too low; but they were willing to go in on the whole contract. To this Mr. Peirce would not agree. While the latter had made a.strong effort to sublet the earthwork contract, no offer had been made him below his own figure. He could not remember, however, if any bids had been made him at his own figure. Vicepresident Diebitsch, of the Peirce company, Engineer H. G. Reed and Ernest C. Moore, the company’s engineer, testified substantially to the same effect as Mr. Peirce; but the vicepresident said the firm had been willing to let the matter go whichever way the water commissioners saw fit. Mr. Peirce had thought the actual cost of the work would have been about $Qoo,ooo. ITis company had bid thirty cents a cubic yard for embankment work, the next lowest bids for which had been fifty and sixty cents. Ernest C. Moore had been on the ground for a day and a half, which he thought quite sufficient. By judgment purely and past experience, as well as by following bids on similar contracts elsewhere, he was able to estimate the number of men and cost of tools and equipment. To a certain degree the tnerf employed in connection with standard tools are themselves standardised. The measure of efficiency of the men having the steam shovels is a guide to the number of men required, and that class of employer is growing less every year. He introduced the figures of his estimate, except the first page, which had upon it the final figures submitted, which were not compiled by himself, and were practically his figures of estimate, with $2,coo,ood added to them. That seemed to represent a profit ver the figures of estimated cost of something like 299-ib profit; but He did not know how much of contingent expense was included in his $2,cco,ooo. The bid was estimated at $10,3,5>35o» and his estimates seemed to show that the work would cost about $8,061,660. All told, all expenses included, the bid seemed to include a profit of twenty-five per cent. He was still convinced that the work could be done fer the cost prices estimated, though he might have changed the bid figures, hut not the cost estimates. Henry G. Reed, of J. B. Macdonald’s office, at the request of Vicepresident Diebitsch, went over the Peirce contract some two weeks before the bidding. He had visited the site twice and carefully inspected the borings and pits, and did not consider the material there difficult to handle—just average and not such as to demand much more than the average cost for removal. He thought it an exceptionally fine piece of engineering work from the contractor’s standpoint, difficulty of execution requiring many men and much material. He had assumed, hut did not know for certain that the Peirce company would bid, and in his general figures, approximating costs, as filed, he had included a profit of about ten of fifteen per cent., which is about the percentage generally reckoned, and is fairly good. He had told Vicepresident Diebitsch that he thought the Peirce figures, with the profit he had added, about right, but after bis second trip to Ashokan he had been sorry he had not put in $2,000,000 more. Arthur 1*’. MacArthur, head of the MacArthur Bros.’ firm, had hurried home from Europe when he heard that the contract was to he let last August. As scon as his firm’s hid was sent in he returned to Europe without waiting for the bids to be opened. He did not see either Peirce or Macdonald then, nor had lie had any communication with them regarding the Ashokan bid. His bid was compiled by six men. and he himself fixed the final figure. He had called on Chief Engineer Smith directly after the bids were opened, because lie wished to return to Europe. He met the chief engineer for ilu-. lij’st time on the day before his firm put in ihebld tor the Cross river dam. He did not recollect meeting the chief engineer while his firm was building the Wachusett dam, hut had met Frederick Stearns, now one of the chief engineers, consulting engineer, who was at the head of the YVachusetts dam work, and with others had recommended the chief engineer for his present position. He had met Engineer John R. Freeman and Prof. Bufr, two of the consulting engineers for the Ashokan dam in Chief Engineer Smith’s office for the first time. He was not aware that his firm’s hid for the Cross River dam and the Peekskill aqueduct were just under the chief engineer’s figures. He had never seen any of his estimates. John R. MacArthur, as secretary and treasurer of the MacArthur Bros.’ company, just before he left the stand emphatically denied that his firm had received the contract through any collusion or fraud of any sort. He said his company was “absolutely straight” in what it considered the cost of the work would be, and believed that the Peirce contract would have resulted in a less of $r,ooo,oco to that company. The MacArthur hoped to make a profit of ten per cent, in its contract, but did not know if it would. He pointed out that there were three other bids higher than that of his firm, and that those so bidding were more used to such work than the Peirce company. The latter had not been allowed a subcontract in the work, and, so far as the MacArthur firm was concerned, no overture of any sort had been made to it. and. so far as he knew, his brother, like himself, had had no meeting with either Mr. Macdonald or Mr. Peirce in years. J. O. Winston, of Winston Bros., co-contractors with the MacArthur company. testified that he had never seen harder pan than at the Ashokan borings. He had had a severe experience in that line, and was sure that there would be a great deal of waste in the excavation. A labor exchange agent testified that it would take about two weeks to furnish 1,000 foreign laborers at $1.45 per dav of 8 hours or $1.50 for a ten-hour day. Prof. Burr, in giving evidence as to the geological conditions at Ashokan, declared that the sitwas a fairly good one. as much of the material might be re-emplryed after excavation. He considered that twenty-five per cent, should always be added to the estimated cost, so as to secure a profit, and reiterated his opinion that the Peirce contract was too low. A fifteen oer cent, allowance, he said, was too small, and he believed John B MacDonald had lost a considerable sum in the construction of the rolled earth embankments at ihe Jerome Park reservoir.