Criminal Justice

Anger Over $500M 'Big Dig' Settlement

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News of an apparent $400 million settlement that concludes a potential criminal case against the project manager of a controversial Boston tunnel project has sparked anger among Massachusetts residents.

The approximately $400 million to be paid by Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff is part of a $500 million civil settlement with the state by all of the contractors involved in the problem-plagued $14.79 billion “Big Dig” project, which has been going on for decades and holds the record as the nation’s costliest and most complex highway project, reports the Associated Press. Like other news accounts of the planned settlement, it cites unnamed sources.

“The money will go into a special trust fund that will be used to pay for Big Dig costs and repairs in the future. As a condition for approving the settlement, federal transportation authorities and the Justice Department sought assurances that the money would not go into the state’s general fund,” reports the Boston Globe.

As discussed in earlier posts, the state brought a criminal case against one contractor, Powers Fasteners Inc., over the epoxy glue the Brewster, N.Y., company supplied. Although the company president says it had no idea that contractors would use the epoxy for this nonrecommended purpose, workers attached overhead panels in the Interstate 90 tunnel with the glue, and it eventually failed. One woman died, and her husband was injured in the July 2006 tunnel collapse that resulted, leading to an involuntary manslaughter case against the company.

Powers Fasteners has settled a lawsuit brought by the victim’s family for $6 million, but it continues against other contractors involved in the tunnel project and is not affected by the pending $500 million settlement, according to AP. A judge last month declined to dismiss the criminal case, as another post discusses.

Critics, including Massachusetts Sen. Robert Hedlund, are angry about the relatively minimal amount of the settlement compared to what was spent on the tunnel project, the Boston Herald explains on its Daily Briefing blog.

“There are rivers pouring through our tunnels, one woman has died, and the public trust has been irrevocably broken, and yet Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff has been able to buy themselves out of trouble for just $399 million,” Hedlund says in a press release today. “That figure represents pocket change for a pair of firms that have pocketed billions of taxpayer dollars.”

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