Knife River Corp. and its insurance carrier are denying claims from motorists whose vehicles were spotted with a tar-like substance earlier this month in a state Highway 75 construction zone between Hailey and Ketchum.
Pamela Link, a Knife River spokeswoman in Bismarck, N.D., confirmed Wednesday that the company and Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Co. will not reimburse motorists to clean the spots off their vehicles.
"It was nothing that we did," Link said in an interview.
She denied speculation by motorists in an Oct. 21 story in the Idaho Mountain Express that Knife River had spread asphalt emulsion on the highway when spotting occurred on Oct. 4 as heavy rains blanketed the Wood River Valley.
"Knife River has performed the work according to all specifications of the contract laid out by the Idaho Department of Transportation," Link wrote a statement issued Wednesday to the Express. "When we milled down that surface, we did not place any emulsion product on the roadway. When it rained, we believe it reactivated something that was in the old roadbed."
Knife River is under contract with ITD to resurface the 10-mile stretch of highway between Hailey and Ketchum. The company, owned by MDU Resources Group, has an office in Boise and is headquartered in Bismarck.
ITD supported Knife River's position on the spotting issue in a separate statement issued late Tuesday afternoon.
"The contractor, Knife River, performed actions required by the contractor when milling the roadway prior to the Oct. 4 rain showers." ITD stated. "Upon study of the issues that followed, it was found there were no oil products spread on the milled surface prior to the rain, there was no material failures and the contractor did not do anything contrary to the contract.
"What did happen was the result of fine dust remnants following the milling process mixing with the rain water. This created an oily residue that, once dried, hardened on everything it hit. While a rare and unfortunate situation, this is the risk of driving in a construction zone. Several cleaners are capable of removing the residue, including citrus-based cleaners or mineral spirits."
Motorists whose vehicles were spotted have reported to the Express that removing the spots themselves took several hours and that commercial removal is costing about $150.
Meanwhile, Knife River continues work on the highway, hoping to get the new surface in place before cold weather precludes further construction.
"Hopefully, by this time next week they'll be finished," ITD spokesman Nathan Jerke said Thursday.
Jerke acknowledged that this week's colder morning temperatures in the Wood River Valley have caused later start times some days for the contractor. He said Knife River will be allowed to work this weekend if necessary.
According to an ITD press release, Knife River is expected to finish this week putting a new surface on the final few miles of highway from First Street in Ketchum south to the bridge over the Big Wood River near St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center.
Knife River is also redoing a section of asphalt several hundred feet long on the west side of the southbound highway lane in the Buttercup Road area. Jerke said the section developed stress cracks due to an improper oil mixture from the company's portable batch plant.
The company will also be working on road striping and turning lane delineation.
ITD earlier conceded that putting a final seal coat on most of the stretch of highway will have to wait until warmer temperatures arrive in 2012. ITD originally planned to have the entire project completed this year.
Terry Smith: email@example.com