Fridley page 76

[St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 3, 1941]

House Group May Include It in One Phase of Investigation—McDowell Defends His Work.

Post-Dispatch Bureau, 201-205 Kellogg Bldg.
            WASHINGTON, April 3.—Inquiry into the acquisition of the TNT site plant at Weldon Springs, Mo., was sidetracked today as the House Military Affairs Committee prepared for a far-reaching investigation into defense production.
            Brig. Gen. Brehon B. Somervell, in charge of construction for the Quartermaster’s Corps, was present to continue his testimony on how R. Newton McDowell of Kansas City happened to be awarded a 5 per cent commission contract for acquisition of the land but the committee went into executive session and dismissed Gen. Somervell until a later date.
            Meanwhile McDowell made public a letter he sent to Chairman Andrew J. May of the Military Affairs Committee, in which he angrily denied Gen. Somervell’s charges that he had paid “grossly excessive” prices for farm land in the site. May said at the end of the executive session that McDowell had asked to be heard but that no decision had been reached on whether he would be called.
Group for Each Phase.
            It is probable, May indicated, that the full committee will be split up with various subcommittees hearing special phases of the investigation, one group to take over the inquiry into land acquisition, cantonments and procurements. He announced that William Knudsen and other high defense officials would be called for questioning before the full committee Monday.
            “We’ll go into everything that we have already tentatively explored,” May said when asked if the Weldon Spring inquiry would be resumed.
            Col. R. D. Valliant, formerly in charge of real estate acquisition for the Quartermaster’s Corps, also waited to testify before the committee today and was told be would be recalled for a later hearing. Gen. Somervell testified on Tuesday that he had replaced Col. Valliant because he believed, after looking into the Weldon Spring contract, that someone could do his job more effectively.
            Explaining how he got the contract, McDowell in his letter to May quoted Col. Valliant as saying to him last October:
            “In a day or two an ordnance plant will most likely be an announced for Missouri and I think I will have a job for you to acquire this land.”
            Earlier, when he had first heard reports of ordnance plants to be located west of the Mississippi, he had been in touch with Col. Valliant, McDowell wrote, and had urged on him “a site located in Central Missouri, on the Missouri River, affording both rail and river transportation.” This site, he said, was turned down but word reached him later another site had been chosen near St. Louis.
            McDowell quoted from a statement he made to John J. O’Brien, Justice Department official put in charge of the real estate section of the Quartermaster’s Corps after Valliant had been removed.
On Method of Pricing
            “. . . . You are acting on rank misinformation,” McDowell said of O’Brien’s insistence on lower values arrived at through appraisals, “and I firmly believe that under condemnation proceedings the Government will get stung $1,000,000 more than my option prices.”
            McDowell also attacked the agents chosen by the Justice Department to make appraisals at the site and declared that, if he had had to stop to appraise the land, “the war would have been over before it was finished.”
            “I made a most thorough and detailed investigation of values in that area and my whole organization has had wide experience with farms and farmers, most of them own farms themselves, and I myself own four farms.
            “It so happens in the last 15 years we have done a lot of work in St. Charles County. In fact, at one time we operated a quarry in St. Charles County. All of my men are on annual salary and most of them have been with me for 15 years or longer. I had one man on a weekly salary on leave from the Federal Land Bank and one on leave from the Agricultural Conservation Association who had accumulated a number of farms for the Department of Agriculture.”
            The Kansas City Title and Trust Co. was chosen to do the abstracting, according to McDowell, because it was on “the Attorney General’s approved list” of abstracting companies. This company got 1½ per cent of the purchase price in addition to McDowell’s 5 per cent.
Work Had Been Approved.
            McDowell disclosed in his letter to May that his work at the Weldon Springs site had been approved by Arthur C. Ringland, a Department of Agriculture expert sent to Missouri by Chester Davis, who was in charge of the agricultural division of the National Defense Advisory Commission. Efforts have been made to put the blame for the land prices on Defense Commission experts who urged that farmers be allowed “disturbance value.” McDowell quotes as follows from a memorandum sent by Ringland to Davis:
            “The project was acquired with expedition and with the minimum of complaints. In fact, very few came from the farmers. Mr. McDowell consulted freely with the county agent and other representatives of the Department of Agriculture and made provision for disturbance damages in the above costs. It has always been my feeling he did a satisfactory job under high speed pressure.”
Warned on Contract.
            Recently J. B. Hudson, Davis’ first assistant, wrote a lengthy letter to the Military Affairs Committee of the House, stating the position of the Defense Commission. In that letter, which May declined today to make public, it was stated the War Department had been clearly and emphatically warned against the cost-plus-commission type of contract such as was awarded to McDowell.