State Lawyer Defends Big Dig Cost Recovery Efforts

Wed April 19, 2006 - Northeast Edition

BOSTON (AP) The lawyer in charge of Attorney General Tom Reilly’s Big Dig cost recovery effort is vigorously defending the decision to pursue just $108 million for management and design blunders on the $14.6-billion project, saying it’s all she can prove is owed the state.

First assistant Attorney General Stephanie Lovell also said she hoped to reach a settlement with project manager Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff and design consultants, but is willing to head to court if needed.

“Everybody knows that there is a certain number out there that we have in our minds about what we think it’s truly worth and if we have to walk away from the table we’ll walk away from the table,” Lovell said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.

Reilly, a Democratic candidate for governor, has come under fire from critics who said the $108 million is a paltry sum. Republican Gov. Mitt Romney, who was in Washington D.C. on March 29, called it “too little and too late.”

But Lovell said the vast amount of money spent on the massive highway project is beyond her reach. The cost recovery effort is narrowly focused on design and management — not construction.

Lovell also said the contract between the state and Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff capped the company’s liability at no more than $150 million for design and management problems, she said, meaning that no matter how much money Bechtel’s errors cost taxpayers, the state could only recover a maximum of $150 million.

“The claim is about what parties did wrong and what I can prove. It’s not about negative feeling. It’s not about wishing the number was lower,” she said. “It’s not like we didn’t get something for $14 billion.”

Of the $108 million, Lovell is seeking $67 million from Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff and $41 million from other design firms.

Andy Paven, spokesman of Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, declined comment.

“What we have to say we will say to the attorney general’s office and not the media,” he said.

Independent gubernatorial candidate Christy Mihos, a former member of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority board, which oversees the Big Dig, said he was disappointed by the $108-million figure.

“That is woefully short of what the state is owed,” said Mihos. “This has been nothing but a rush to judgment to get it out of the way.”

Mihos could not say how much he thinks the state could recover, but said the job of cost recovery should be turned over to an independent counsel.

Lovell said her job is limited to design and management problems because recovery of money from construction gaffes has already been resolved through a separate process.

That process, in which contractors submit claims for additional payment due to problems beyond their control, was overseen by the state highway department, the Turnpike Authority and the Federal Highway Commission, each of which had to sign off on any cost increase.

Although she is willing to go to court if needed, Lovell said settling the case would save the expense of a trial.

“I think everybody sees an upside to try to settle,” she said.

She also said the office isn’t ruling out pursuing additional money if it can prove anyone working on the project deliberately made false claims.

Lovell said she understood all along that whatever the office recovered would never seem like enough given the Big Dig’s headaches and spiraling cost.

But Lovell said there’s more than just money riding on the outcome of the effort.

“Unless we prove we can do this, who’s going to trust us with the next big federal project?” she said. “At some point there’s going to be something else we want to build.”

The Big Dig moved Interstate 93 underground and built new connections to Logan International Airport. The project’s cost estimates rose from under $3 billion in the late 1980s to $14.6 billion now.