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Allegation: Original Memo tested positive!! August 3, 2006

Posted by jaldenh in Interesting.

Big Dig firm calls warning a fake

Safety officer stands by memo, lawyer says

A Big Dig construction company denied yesterday receiving a memorandum that a safety officer said he wrote in 1999 warning that the Interstate 90 connector ceiling could collapse and said the document appeared to be fabricated.

The statement issued by Modern Continental Construction Co. is the company’s first public comment since a story appeared in The Boston Globe last Wednesday describing the document and the account of safety officer John J. Keaveney, who said he expressed grave concern about the epoxy-and-bolt ceiling system in May 1999.

“Based on an extensive review of documents, including invoices for delivery of materials, commencement-of-work records, and safety reports signed by Mr. Keaveney, Modern Continental believes the memo he allegedly prepared in May 1999 was fabricated,” said the statement by the Cambridge-based company.

Keaveney could not be reached for an interview, but his lawyer said Keaveney maintains that the memo is authentic.

Modern Continental has also turned over to state investigators this week documents that company officials say contradict key details in Keaveney’s account. The company’s documents lay out a timetable for installation of the ceiling that began after May 17, 1999, the date that appears on the memo Keaveney asserts he wrote.

The documents indicate, for example, that workers did not begin drilling holes into the roof of the connector tunnel until June 10, 1999, so Keaveney could not have observed, as the memo states, that there was water dripping from the drilled holes in May. In addition, according to company documents, invoices for building materials mentioned in the memo indicate the materials were not delivered until July.

Modern Continental also provided the investigators from the state attorney general’s office with samples of the company’s letterheads, which differ slightly from the letterhead on the memo Keaveney asserts he wrote.

But Keaveney’s lawyer, Edward G. Boyle, said Keaveney stands by the authenticity of the memo. A Globe reporter received a copy of the memo in the mail on July 25 and brought it to Keaveney, who is now a safety officer for Shawmut Design and Construction in Boston.

It is unclear who sent the memo to the Globe; the return address was not Keaveney’s. A handwriting analyst’s opinion, which Modern Continental commissioned and submitted to the attorney general’s office, concluded that, based on the analyst’s examination of a photocopy of the envelope, Keaveney probably wrote the address on the envelope.

But Boyle said that “when provided a copy of the memo by a reporter on July 25, John Keaveney verified it as his own without hesitation, and he stands by that memo.

“Without taking time to review notes or otherwise refresh his memory, John Keaveney answered the reporter’s question about events that occurred seven years earlier. He did so forthrightly and honestly,” the lawyer said.

Boyle said that Keaveney may have made some mistakes during the interview with the Globe about the exact sequence of events. A Globe reporter interviewed Keaveney late at night Tuesday, before publication the next morning.

“Some clarifications to the time line may have to be made,” Boyle said.

Keaveney has voluntarily answered questions from state and federal investigators.

The starkly worded two-page document seemed to chillingly foretell the tunnel collapse that crushed Milena Del Valle to death on July 10. The memo is addressed to Robert Coutts, senior project manager for Modern Continental, and says that the tunnel ceiling could collapse because the bolts could not support the heavy concrete panels. It also says Keaveney feared for his conscience if someone died as a result.

In the interview with the Globe, Keaveney said that after he raised his concern, his superiors at Modern Continental, the company then building the tunnel, and representatives from Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, the private sector manager for the Big Dig, tried to reassure him and told him that such a system had been tested and proven to work.

He said Coutts told him, “John, this is a tried and true method.”

The Globe has been unable to reach Coutts, and the company said it would not make him available. But Modern Continental officials said in its statement that Coutts has no recollection of ever receiving the memo or discussing it with Keaveney.

“Others who are mentioned in the memo or who would have been alerted to such a memo also have no recollection of it or of Mr. Keaveney raising his concerns directly,” the statement said.

Keaveney said in the interview that his worries intensified about the ceiling after a third-grade class from his hometown of Norwell visited the Big Dig for a tour in spring 1999.

He said he showed the class some concrete ceiling panels and pointed to bolts protruding from the ceiling, explaining that the panels would one day hang from those bolts. A third-grade girl, he said, raised her hand, and asked, “Will those things hold up the concrete?”

Keaveney said he started voicing concerns among his colleagues and then to managers. “It was like the [third-graders] had pointed out the emperor has no clothes,” he said. “I said, `Yes, it would hold,’ but then I thought about it.”

In recent days, Keaveney has said he was mistaken about the timing of the school trip, according to a person who has spoken with him. In fact, he told the person, the school visit took place in January or February of 2000, after he said he had written the memo.

The company documents provided to the attorney general’s office also indicate that Keaveney did not go on the payroll of workers specifically assigned to the I-90 connector project until late May 30, 1999, nearly two weeks after the date on the memo. But Keaveney had worked for Modern Continental since 1997.

According to the person who spoke with Keaveney, Keaveney has said that his job required him to “preplan,” or identify safety concerns, before construction begins. The person said Keaveney now believes he wrote the memo before work began in the tunnel while preparing a “job hazard analysis” by interviewing project workers and reviewing the project schedule. Another analysis prepared by Keaveney in the fall of 1999 for work on the tunnel ceiling and obtained by the Globe make no mention of concerns about the system used to fasten ceiling panels.

Among other inconsistencies Modern sought to highlight in the documents given to the attorney general’s investigators:

The memo describes concern for ironworkers installing the ceiling “at present.” But in May, when the memo was dated, no ironworkers had arrived at the project, the company documents indicate.

The company also provided a May 28, 1999, safety report completed by Keaveney in which he raises no issues related to the epoxy-bolt system.

The company-provided resume of Keaveney shows that he has a bachelor of science degree, with a major in business, from the University College Galway, Ireland, not an engineering degree as the Globe story reported.

Martin Baron, editor of the Globe said yesterday that the interview with Keaveney for the story “was conducted late at night and in some haste. Because of the manner and speed at which the question was asked, we believe there may have been a miscommunication. On his official resume, he does not claim to have an engineering degree.”

The Modern Continental records also include a reprimand of Keaveney in 1998 for allegedly falsifying the training records of a safety representative. However, the reprimand states to Keaveney : “We understand that your intent may have been well meaning.”

In recent days, several colleagues and friends of Keaveney, said they had heard him express doubts about the safety of the epoxy-and-bolt ceiling hanging system as far back as 2003.

Edward Hawthorne — a safety officer for Bond Brothers Inc., an Everett-based construction company — said he recalled Keaveney sharing his concerns with him last October at a training session for safety officers sponsored by Associated General Contractors, a trade group.

When he heard of the July 10 ceiling collapse, Hawthorne said, he thought, “Wow, Johnny was right.”

Two Norwell neighbors — James Dakin and Timothy Foley — said Keaveney had on numerous occasions expressed misgivings about the quality of work on the Big Dig, including at a 40th birthday party for Keaveney in 2003.

Foley said he recalls Keaveney telling him long ago “to floor it when driving through the tunnel.”

“I believe in this kid,” said David P. Powell, director of labor relations for Associated General Contractors, who said he offered Keaveney a job in 1998 or 1999 and called him “very principled and ethical.”

Powell added, “He has a lot of support in the safety community.”

Thomas F. Healy, a Wellesley lawyer who represented a Modern Continental worker who received a settlement of at least $8 million from three companies involved in the project after being impaled with an 8-foot long piece of steel in 2000, said Keaveney’s account rings true, even if Modern Continental cannot find the memo he says he wrote.

In the suit he brought against the construction and engineering firms overseeing the project and a subcontractor that provided a crane, Healy said, “There were multiple instances of documents and photos being lost or misplaced.”

He also said that payroll records sometimes failed to accurate ly reflect workers’ assignments.

“One should cautiously examine any claim by Bechtel/Parsons or Modern that the authenticity of a document which cannot be located is suspect,” he said.

The attorney general’s office and the US attorney’s office, both of which are investigating the tunnel collapse, declined to comment on Modern Continental’s statement and the documents.

Jonathan Saltzman can be reached at jsaltzman@globe.com. Sean Murphy can be reached at smurphy@globe.com.  

© Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company



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