Creepy glue: Dam firm settles in death, dodges questions
The company that keeps Charlottesville unsure whether to laugh or cry over its work on the community's 50-year water plan helped dry some tears in Boston recently. Two years after one of its projects became a deathtrap for a mother of three, Gannett Fleming has apparently agreed to help pay $28 million to the woman's family.
Survivors of 38-year-old Milena Del Valle will receive the money, via a settlement with Gannett Fleming and other companies involved in construction of a flawed auto tunnel in the Big Dig, a mammoth Boston highway project, it was announced the night of September 30.
A passenger in a car driven by her husband, Del Valle died in July 2006, after a nearly three-ton concrete panel in an Interstate 90 connector tunnel fell from the ceiling. Gannett Fleming had designed the ceiling panels and the anchoring system.
Gannett Fleming attempted to defend its system of hanging the heavy panels by anchoring threaded bolts in epoxy-filled holes rather than tying in to structural members. After the suit was filed, blame fell particularly hard on the firm that supplied the epoxy, with Massachusetts charging the fastener firm with manslaughter.
A 132-page report by the National Transportation Safety Board, finding that Gannett Fleming failed to understand that the glue could creep out of the holes, declared that the firm demonstrated "no consideration of the service life of the adhesive anchors."
The state reached a wide-ranging, $458 million settlement with several of the Big Dig's lead construction and design firms in January. The September 30 announcement marked the end of a private lawsuit.
Gannett Fleming's Charlottesville work has not been lethal, but it has been been controversial. In February, before the extent of the controversy became evident, a former Charlottesville City Councilor said, "When they want you to do something, they make the numbers as low as possible. When they don't, they make them as high as possible."
Subsequently, on something Gannett Fleming tried to malign, dredging, private contractors began submitting proposals for as little as one tenth of the company estimate. Then, on September 22, what Gannett Fleming had long touted as a $37 million dam turned out to cost about $100 million.
Reached by telephone one day later, Gannett Fleming engineer Aaron Keno demanded that all questions get submitted in writing, so ten questions were submitted within the hour. Two days later, Keno emailed a brief statement about the company’s willingness to help the citizens of Charlottesville.
–last updated 4:09pm, October 13
original headline: Gannett Fleming: Firm settles in death, dodges questions