The decision on Aug. 9 by the Williston City Commission to terminate J.M. Marschuetz’s contract to build the taxiway at the new Williston Basin International Airport apparently took the company’s owner by surprise.

It took many in the public by surprise, as well, and that is much more troubling.

In three separate monthly updates — May, June and July — the city posted updates on the XWAproject.com website that said taxiway and runway work was making good progress. In June, the update specifically said the taxiway project was tracking right on schedule.

That raises an obvious question: What happened that pushed the taxiway project behind schedule?

Another question is: Was the taxiway project behind schedule the entire time? If it was, why did the city say it was “tracking right on schedule?”

That last question is important.

Despite the multitude of consultants and contractors working on the airport project, it is being paid for with local, state and federal money. It is a public project, and there is no room on a public project for dissembling or half-truths about progress.

The situation is complicated further by the fact that Michael Marschuetz, the owner of J.M. Marshuetz, claims his company had caught up and was on track to complete the taxiway project by November — the agreed upon date. He also argues that the delays were caused by the city, something City Administrator David Tuan disputed.

This is not the time or place to adjudicate the claims of the city and Marshuetz. But the public would be right to wonder what really happened.

Were the updates from the city about the taxiway project correct? If so, what caused the project to fall behind? It seems implausible that the project went from on time in June to nearly a year behind schedule in August.

The alternative is that the taxiway project was behind schedule in May, in June and in July, but the city decided to say otherwise in the updates.

The new airport is a massive project, and a delay in one area can have a domino effect on other areas. Staying positive is important.

Saying a project is tracking right on schedule when it isn’t is more than staying positive, though. At best it’s spin, and it has no place at all in communications from the city about a publicly funded project.

If city officials won’t be straightforward on the airport project’s schedule, they risk losing credibility with the public.

 

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