Big Dig lawsuit urged

News The Boston Globe August 23, 2006
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Following last month's ceiling collapse in a Big Dig tunnel, a retired judge who previously investigated the project has urged Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney to aggressively pursue a $150 million lawsuit filed against the project's main contractor, Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, the Boston Globe reported.

The two-year-old suit says Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, hired to design and manage the Big Dig, hid its true cost for a number of years. However, Attorney General Thomas Reilly has put the case on hold because he believes evidence is lacking, the Globe reported.

"Now that Governor Romney has more control over the Big Dig, we want him to focus on this lawsuit," retired judge Edward Ginsburg said in an interview Monday. "The point is that Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff did not fulfill its duty to the state."

On Monday, Ginsburg mailed a letter to Romney with a transcript of a 1994 meeting during which Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff managers discussed the vagaries of funding for the Big Dig and the pressure to minimize its cost, prompting one manager to question whether it was wise to stay on the job, according to the Boston Globe.

"Is there a strategy to back ourselves out of this job? Or are we just going to continue to suck on the cow as long as it lives?" an unidentified manager asked, according to the transcript.

"You suck on a cow as long as it's alive," another manager replied.

"Absolutely. You've got a thousand people on this job," the first manager said, according to the transcript.

According to Ginsburg, the exchange illustrates Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff's willingness to "put its own welfare and profit ahead of the interests of its client, the Commonwealth and the Turnpike Authority," he wrote in his letter.

The transcript was made from a tape provided to Ginsburg by Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff after Ginsberg filed the suit and demanded that all relevant records be turned over to him, according to the Boston Globe. The transcript does not identify the managers speaking, and has not previously been made public.

"This is loose talk in a meeting," Andrew Paven, spokesman for the project manager said after being shown the transcript.

According to Paven, Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff managers brought their concerns to then governor William Weld. "By December 1994, we were in Governor Weld's office insisting that he take note of our cost concerns."

Ginsburg was hired by the Turnpike Authority in 2003 to lead a team of lawyers and engineers reviewing the $14.6 billion Big Dig for possible refunds due to careless work. In 2004, he sued Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, contending that it failed to disclose the true cost to be $1.4 billion more than previously stated, the Boston Globe reported.

When Reilly took over cost recovery from Ginsburg in January 2005, he decided to put Ginsburg's suit on hold. "We have not found evidence to support the view that public officials did not know," Stephanie Lovell, Reilly's top assistant, said of Ginsburg's suit. "I think the evidence is a mixed bag. I can't put the smoking gun in anyone's hand."

The Legislature gave Gov. Romney greater control over the Big Dig following the July 10 ceiling collapse in the I-90 connector tunnel, which killed Milena Del Valle. Ginsburg said that's why he is now appealing to Gov. Romney to press the lawsuit.

Ginsburg said in his letter that Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff had a fiduciary obligation to protect the state's interest or resign as the state's project manager, a duty of "trust and confidence between the parties," in the contract's words.

"From 1996 to 2000, when project costs finally became public knowledge, Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, in breach of its fiduciary duties, employed a scheme it had previously described as a 'shell game,' that obscured anticipated cost," Ginsburg wrote.

He also wrote that the project manager used one estimate of project costs publicly while maintaining a different set of estimates that "reflected Bechtel/Parsons Brinkerhoff's actual awareness of the substantial cost overruns."

The unrealistically low estimates were presented to the Legislature and the Executive Office of Administration and Finance, Ginsburg wrote. He said the manager was not relieved of responsibility because certain state officials were aware of the true estimate.

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