Denver International Air Pork

Out at DIA, the wish list keeps expanding--and the debt keeps piling up.

"It enhances response times to several runways on the north end of the airfield," DIA spokesman Cannon says of the new station. "We were making them sometimes and not making them sometimes."

When the city council voted on the project last year, DIA chief engineer Norm Witteveen said he hoped to trim construction costs as work proceeded. Apparently, he didn't bring a big knife: Witteveen says he's been able to carve only about $18,000 from the contract.

James A. Walker Sr. says he doesn't know why his firm was the only bidder on the firehouse job. "That's a good question," he says. But he claims it isn't unusual to have only one bidder on a public contract, adding that "it happens all the time."

When asked whether he believes his firm's contributions to Webb had anything to do with the firehouse contract being pushed through, Walker asks, "What campaign contributions?" Told that records at the city clerk's office show that J.A. Walker Co. gave Webb $400 in June 1994 and $250 more in January 1995, he responds, "Is that what the numbers show? If that's what they show, that's what they show."

The law, Walker continues, "allows citizens to make contributions to whomever they would like." The contractor, whose family business has received more than $4.5 million in city contracts since 1993, adds that the firm did work for the city long before Webb was elected mayor. The company's other recent contracts include a recreation center and a district headquarters building for the parks department, along with an open-ended $1 million contract signed last February that gives Walker first crack at miscellaneous city construction jobs over the next year.

Hackworth says that when he expressed concern about Walker's hiring at DIA last year, he and other councilmembers were told that Walker was the only contractor to bid on the firehouse job because other construction companies were too busy. "I always wonder when Mr. Walker gets a contract, because he definitely is closely attached to the mayor," says Hackworth. "I questioned whether he should be able to take the job, because he was already committed to three other contracts. They came back and said he could."

Interestingly, despite the administration's rush to get the new firehouse built, the one-story structure doesn't represent an actual increase in firefighting capacity at the airport. According to assistant fire chief Jerry Melaragno, DIA still has the same amount of personnel and equipment it did before the station opened and has simply reallocated them.

Getting the station in place before the sixth runway is built was good for planning purposes, Melaragno contends. As for the construction contract, he says he thinks the city got "a hell of a deal."

And the fire station isn't the only deal the city has thrown Walker's way at DIA. Last year the firm got an $818,000 contract to build a 5,000-square-foot "multimedia conference room" at DIA and to provide assorted "minor construction modifications and repairs" throughout the airport. Cannon says the conference room was an important addition to the airport. "What happens if we have a major incident out here?" he asks. "Where do you put the media? We can't just stand everyone in the terminal."

What to do with the media is one of many questions DIA officials say they have to address. The airport's Five-Year Capital Improvement Program, a non-binding wish list prepared to help predict future needs at DIA, includes two items that may sound familiar. According to that document, by the year 2000, the airport just may require a seventh runway--and a fifth firehouse to serve it.

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