Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Capitol damage cost claim based on 1 page of notebook paper

Handwritten page was all state had behind $7 million figure

March 30, 2011- State officials' controversial courtroom testimony that protesters did more than $7 million in damage to the Capitol was based on a single handwritten page.

An open records request by the Journal Sentinel on the damage estimate turned up only one page of notebook paper listing costs written before the courtroom testimony. Other e-mails from state officials listing areas to check for potential damage also were released, but there were no others with any dollar figures written before the court testimony.

The state has still not fixed a firm cost for cleanup and any needed restoration, and so far the most visible damage has been to the Capitol lawn.

On March 3, a state Department of Administration official said in Dane County Circuit Court that costs for a full cleanup and restoration at the Capitol could reach $7.5 million. The statement was made as unions and Gov. Scott Walker's administration were battling in court over state officials' decision to restrict access to the statehouse for thousands of demonstrators opposed to the Republican governor's union bargaining bill.

Department of Administration spokeswoman Carla Vigue said Wednesday that the single page written by state architect Dan Stephans and dated March 3 – the same day as the court statement – was the basis for the testimony. Stephans did not respond to a phone message left Wednesday.

"The only real document we had to give was the handwritten one," Vigue said.

The day after the testimony, Walker administration officials sharply backpedaled from the damages figures amid widespread questions about their validity.

Nick Carnahan, a Wisconsin native who does architectural work on renovations and restorations of historic buildings, has noted that the $7.5 million estimate cited would be enough to pay several skilled laborers to do cleanup for years. Carnahan said that a single sheet of paper didn't represent enough research and analysis to adequately make the case for such large damages.

"Certainly more time would have had to have been invested," Carnahan said.

Peg Lautenschlager, the attorney for the union plaintiffs that were seeking to have the Capitol opened to the public, said the estimate "speaks for itself as to their credibility."

Vigue said the state has hired a skilled architect, Charles Quagliana, to estimate the cost of any possible damage. He may have findings by next week, she said.

"I think there was some realization that there needs to be a much more thorough estimate of what it will cost," Vigue said.

On March 4, the day after the court hearing, the state released several documents showing a more detailed analysis of costs, but state officials acknowledged that those documents were produced after the court testimony.


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