Big Dig Settlement Announced

Contractors who worked on the long-troubled Big Dig highway project have agreed to pay more than $400 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the state over a fatal tunnel ceiling collapse and to cover the costs of leaks and design flaws.

Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, the consortium that oversaw design and construction of the nation's costliest public works project, has agreed to pay $407 million, while several smaller companies will pay about $51 million collectively, U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan said in announcing the deal.

"Massachusetts Highway and the citizens of Massachusetts entrusted Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff to act as their eyes and ears on the Central Artery Project,'' Sullivan said. "They grossly failed to meet their obligations and responsibilities to the citizens of Massachusetts and the United States.''

Under the agreement, Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff will not face criminal charges in the July 2006 Interstate 90 tunnel ceiling collapse that killed Milena Del Valle, 39, of Boston. She was crushed by 26 tons of concrete as she and her husband drove to Logan International Airport.

The deal also does not bar the consortium from receiving future government contracts. Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff was paid more than $2 billion to manage the project.

State officials could seek additional damages from Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff only in the event of a catastrophic event _ defined as an incident that causes more than $50 million in damages. Its liability would be capped at $100 million, and an arbitrator would decide whether the consortium was to blame.

The settlement does not have a direct effect on a separate lawsuit filed by Del Valle's family.

"We believe that today's global agreement is the best possible resolution. I do not say perfect, but the best possible resolution at this time,'' Attorney General Martha Coakley said.

Powers Fasteners Inc., the only company that has been criminally charged in the tunnel collapse, is also the only one out of 15 companies and agencies that have reached a settlement with the Del Valle family. Powers, a Brewster, N.Y. company that provided the epoxy blamed for the ceiling collapse, has agreed to pay the family $6 million.

The company, which has been charged with involuntary manslaughter, has denied responsibility for the tunnel collapse.

Max Stern, the company's lawyer in the criminal case, criticized the decision by prosecutors to allow Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, a multi-billion-dollar consortium, to avoid criminal charges while pursuing charges against Powers, a smaller, family-owned business.

"Obviously, this is out of Powers' price range,'' Stern said of the $407 million settlement.

"The sheer size of this settlement underlines what we think is the undeniable fact that Bechtel bears the real responsibility for this accident. After all, Bechtel was responsible for the design, it was responsible for the construction and it was responsible for the inspection of the tunnel, and yet, it escapes all criminal charges.''

If convicted, Powers faces a fine of $1,000, the maximum penalty for a company charged with manslaughter in Massachusetts. No individuals were indicted, but prosecutors did not rule out future indictments against individuals.

Del Valle's death sparked a flurry of finger-pointing and investigations.

The National Transportation Safety Board found that the wrong type of epoxy was used to hold up concrete ceiling panels that collapsed and fell on Del Valle's car. The NTSB concluded the collapse could have been avoided if designers and construction crews had considered that the epoxy holding support anchors for the panels could slowly pull away over time.

Dec. 31 officially marked the end of the joint venture that teamed Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff with the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority to bury the old elevated Central Artery that ran through the heart of Boston with a series of tunnels, ramps and bridges.

The $14.79 billion Big Dig, which had an initial price tag of $2.6 billion, has been plagued by problems and cost overruns throughout the two decades it took to design and build.

This program aired on January 23, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.


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