Granite Falls subcontractor pleads to falsifying light-rail steel grade

SEATTLE — A subcontractor who worked on Sound Transit’s light rail line from Seattle to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport falsified documents concerning the strength of steel casings he provided.

David Appleby, the president of Appleby NW Inc. of Granite Falls, entered a guilty plea in U.S. District Court this afternoon to one count of making and using false documents.

The casings he built wrap around reinforced-concrete pillars that support four miles of elevated track from the Rainier Valley to Tukwila. The contract specifications called for grade 50 steel, which yields at 50,000 pounds of pressure per square inch, but in most cases Appleby used grade 36, which yields at 36,000 pounds per square inch.

Sound Transit spokesman Bruce Gray said Thursday that the agency did not need to replace the casings because the contract specifications were written in an abundance of caution. Studies commissioned by Sound Transit, the Federal Transit Administration and Appleby’s lawyers all found that the lower-grade steel is still plenty safe, he said.

“Good design on a project like this will always err conservatively on the side of safety and caution,” Gray said. “The structural stability and seismic stability and longterm operational stability meet our requirements.”

Charging papers say Appleby altered test results to conceal that the steel he purchased in 2005 and 2006 from Oregon Steel Mills in Portland, Ore., did not meet contract specifications. Prosecutors did not indicate a motive.

Gray said the higher-grade steel would have cost about $36,000 more, but he did not know offhand the total cost of the steel Appleby provided.

Appleby’s lawyer, Irwin Schwartz, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

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