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‘Big Dig’ tragedy reflects corruption

Published Aug 24, 2006 10:19 PM

Milena Del Valle didn’t get the chance to greet her loved ones at Logan International Airport on July 10. While traveling with her spouse to the airport, Del Valle, a working-class Costa Rican living in Boston, was crushed to death when three-ton concrete ceiling panels in the Inter state 90 tunnel connector let loose and fell on the couple’s car. Angel Del Valle survived with minor physical injuries.

Ongoing investigations since the tra gedy have found many structural design flaws. One of the most serious: The bolts used to secure the panels weren’t capable of supporting their weight for the length of time the general contractors, the Bechtel Group and Parsons Brickenhoff, said they would.

The Laborers and Iron Workers unions, among others, had raised concerns about these flaws for years. They were ignored.

Massachusetts billionaire Republican Gov. Mitt Romney, his 2006 Democratic gubernatorial opponent and the state’s attor ney general, Thomas Reilly, and other politicians have postured to deflect blame for Del Valle’s death and the thoroughly flawed Big Dig from themselves, their offices, and the capitalist bosses and bankers.

For them, billions of dollars are at stake—not only in Boston but throughout the United States and internationally.

Still, they and many others, from Mas sa chusetts to Washington D.C. and beyond, are culpable for this entirely preventable disaster. The whole Big Dig project has been so rife with corruption, cronyism, graft, nepotism and wholesale criminal negligence from its inception that the weekly Bos ton Phoenix headlined a July 28 article “A Handy Guide to the Big Dig Screw-Up.”

To this day, despite over 15 years of Big Dig malfeasance reporting by the Boston Globe and other corporate media, state legislative investigations and more, not one politician or capitalist responsible for the death of Del Valle and the theft of billions of local, state and national taxpayer dollars has been arrested, charged or imprisoned.

What is the ‘Big Dig’?

Billed as the biggest and the most expensive civil engineering project in U.S. history, the Big Dig was meant, according to planners, to build a highway underneath Boston. Billions of dollars of commodities now flow annually through the Big Dig freeway arteries or those connected to it. The primary beneficiaries are the military-industrial complex, Big Oil, the affluent white suburbs and tourism.

In 1985 the Massachusetts state legislature awarded the Bechtel/Parsons Brinck erhoff partnership the Big Dig contract to design and manage the project along with other corporations.

Originally, the partnership was under the direct control of the state legislature. But in 1997 the legislature moved the project to an “independent” authority, and created an “integrated project organization” that joined the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority and B/PB together as co-owners of the project.

Part of the reason for the switch was the exposure of former Massachusetts Gov. Wil liam Weld’s collusion with B/PB. For one thing, Weld’s top aide, Peter Berlandi, was also Bechtel’s liaison to Weld’s administration.

The original partnership estimate for total Big Dig construction was $2.6 billion. In 2003 taxpayers had already footed $14.6 billion for the Big Dig’s ostensible “completion.” This made it the most expensive public transportation project in U.S. history, at $1.8 million per mile.

According to a February 2003 investigative series by the Boston Globe, on more than 3,200 occasions since 1991, the state paid extra money to contractors to compensate for Big Dig design flaws based in un-centralized capitalist chaos.

The state guaranteed Bechtel’s profits —even on work required to correct its mistakes on the cost overruns.


Bechtel’s role

Privately owned Bechtel, based in San Francisco, has 40,000 employees worldwide. The corporation reported revenues of $18.1 billion in 2005. Bechtel built the Hoo ver Dam in the 1930s, and oversaw construction of the English Channel rail tunnel connecting Britain and the continent. The company has won thousands of big contracts from the U.S. government, especially during World War II, as well as from other nations and corporations worldwide.

Individuals embedded within Bechtel’s imperialist nexus have included former Bechtel president and current Bechtel board member George Schultz, who was secretary of state under Ronald Reagan; former Bechtel general counsel Casper Wein burger, who was Reagan’s defense secretary; and Bechtel consultant William Casey, who was head of the Securities and Exchange Commission under Richard Nixon, head of the Export-Import bank under Gerald Ford, Reagan’s campaign mana ger and head of the CIA under President Reagan.

Bechtel faces protests because the Bush administration awarded it contracts worth tens of millions of dollars for Iraq reconstruction without putting the contracts up for bid, and because of its response to Hurricane Katrina, which includes an alleged $48 million in double-billing for maintenance of temporary housing trailers. The corporation is also involved with water privatization, building nuclear bombs and plants, and providing cleanup.

Facing criticism over its Iraq and Katrina actions, company spokesperson Michael Kidder, said, “The huge scope of these projects, and some are first of a kind, are bound to cause some wrinkles along the way, and they become lessons learned.” (www.august6.org)

According to the Arms Trade Resource Center, Bechtel compiled “the most complete mineralogical and geographical data of the former Zaire ever assembled, information worth a fortune to any prospective mining or oil firm.” Bechtel also “commissioned and paid for U.S. National Aero nautics and Space administration satellite studies of the country for infrared maps of its mineral potential.”

A real alternative needed

A people’s commission composed of labor and community organizations as well as individual working-class and oppres sed people is needed to investigate the Big Dig project and determine who is criminally negligent. Once a judgment is rendered by such an independent body, it should have the power to imprison the guilty parties and work out and determine all needed repairs and reparations to taxpayers, including Del Valle’s loved ones. Perhaps this body could be called the Milena Del Valle commission.

This body could also address the critical questions of how the catastrophic effects of this disaster could have been avoided, and how to reduce needless suffering and loss of life through a system of centralized, planned organization based on mass participation as exists in Cuba.