Big Dig Indictment

First off: it was pretty clear at yesterday afternoon's press conference that AG Martha Coakley wanted to use the indictment of Powers Fasteners as an impetus to spur the state to change its ridiculous cap on criminal penalties for corporations. Good for her.

Second: The information disclosed yesterday, and the recent NTSB report, verify that the Boston Globe's reporting last August was spot-on, and they deserve some recognition for that. They got a lot of grief, with good reason, for the embarrassing "Keaveny memo" story that backfired on them. But while the Herald devoted its limited resources to beating up on Keaveny and the Globe (and hyperventilating about "secret" security cameras in MTA offices), the Globe's reporters -- particularly Scott Allen and Sean P. Murphy -- actually dug out the dirt.

Perhaps the most important of their stories was this one from August 20, 2006, in which Allen and Murphy revealed that Big Dig officials chose not to retest the majority of the bolts in the I-90 connector tunnel after realizing in late 1999 that some of the just-installed bolts were beginning to come loose.

Coakley joins the NTSB in concluding that the ceiling collapsed because the bolts were secured with Powers's Fast Set epoxy, rather than its Standard product. Nobody seems to dispute that finding, including Powers -- the questions are A) how and why Fast Set came to be used, and B) how and why nobody figured this out and did something about it between the discovery of the loose bolts in late 1999, and July 2006, when a portion of the ceiling fell and killed Milena Del Valle.

On the first issue, Powers claims that it supplied its Standard epoxy to the project, and has no idea how Fast Set came to be used. The NTSB says that Modern Continental was supplied with Fast Set for the connector tunnel installation. Is someone lying? Did the distributor switch products between the supplier (Powers) and the contractor (Modern Continental)? Was there a conscious decision to switch, or an honest error? Coakley had no answers.

On the second set of issues -- which I consider the key -- the Powers indictment does little. It's easy to say, as Coakley did, that Powers was in the best position to suggest, when brought in along with others to look at the loose bolts in 1999, that someone should check whether the right epoxy was used.

Fine. But they were not in the best position to keep an eye on whether it was safe for people to drive under massive concrete slabs held in place by bolts that were known to be slipping out of place. Coakley reportedly continues to work toward a massive settlement with Bechtel/Parsons Brinkerhoff over that -- she clearly would prefer not to settle for the $1000 cap with them.

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