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A Ferndale company’s $5 million contract to clear debris off Highway 530 is a step toward the state’s target of reopening a lane of the highway through the mudslide area by fall.

In addition, a contract might be awarded later this month for overall reconstruction of the damaged highway, a project that could be complete by early October and cost $20 million to $35 million — depending on how much damage was done in the March 22 slide.

“We need to get a look at the road bed. There is a strong chance the road is significantly messed up,” said Travis Phelps, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation (WSDOT).

During the search for slide victims, crews found sections of the highway that had broken off and moved.

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On the debris-removal job, IMCO General Construction’s bid of $4,959,924 was the lowest of nine received, Phelps said.

He said the clearing work could take a couple of months, adding that the Whatcom County contractor has been instructed to proceed with care.

“There could be human remains. There could be personal items,” Phelps said. “This will be a slow, methodical process … we’re not going to be just running through there with a bulldozer.”

Snohomish County officials early this week ended the “active” search of the site, with the remains of 41 victims found and identified. The remains of Kris Regelbrugge, 44, and Steve Hadaway, 53, have not been found.

Phelps said spotters will work with road-clearing crews, watching for anything that could be connected to a victim, and staying in touch with the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office.

The contract comes as a Darrington man has collected hundreds of signatures on a petition complaining about the selection process and saying local residents who have been working on the search for victims should be kept on the job.

Brian Roggenbuck, a logging contractor, said the process used by the WSDOT for selecting a contractor to clear the corridor favored large companies and excluded capable local residents and companies.

Roggenbuck, who said his petition carried more than 700 signatures, said no one from Oso or Darrington bid on the work because they were told they needed to be a “prequalified” contractor.

“We’re not contractors. That’s not what we do,” said Roggenbuck. “We’re loggers. But we’re perfectly qualified to do this type of thing. We’ve been out there doing it for a month.”

Phelps said the agency will help put together “meet-and-greet” sessions in which area residents with the skills needed can meet the contractor and apply for work on the project.

A call to IMCO about the project was referred to WSDOT.

When a single lane of the highway is open, traffic will proceed through the area one direction at a time — as it now does on a primitive access road around the site that opened on a limited basis Tuesday.

The access road is intended for use by people who “are local or have business ties in Darrington, Oso or Arlington,” according to a WSDOT advisory. Drivers who do not have ties to the area are urged to continue using the detour via Highway 20 to Darrington.

The access road — dirt and gravel with some paved sections — had been used by Seattle City Light Crews. WSDOT awarded a $3.3 million contract to maintain the route and guide traffic behind pilot cars to Granite Construction Company, which is based in California and has an Everett office.

Four companies, including Granite Construction, are on a short list of contractors being considered for the larger highway job. The others are Guy F. Atkinson Construction of Renton, Parson/Kuney Joint Venture of Sumner and the Skanska/Scarsella Joint Venture between a global company and one based in Kent.

That project is to be funded by the Federal Highway Administration, Phelps said.

Jack Broom: 206-464-2222 or

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