Attorney general OKs gag order on Big Dig leak probe

| Friday, March 17, 2006

Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly has signed a five-year gag order on data related to the investigation into Boston’s leaky Big Dig project.

The problem? The gag order is essentially against himself.

The Boston Herald reported that the five-year contract requires any information released to the public regarding the investigation be approved by Reilly, the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, and contractor Bechtel/Parsons Brinkerhoff.

Critics of the agreement argue that it is unfair because Bechtel is the company whose work on the Big Dig is under investigation, which means Reilly can’t say anything without their permission.

“I’ve never heard of a state attorney general voluntarily gagging himself,” Eric Fehmstrom, spokesman for Gov. Mitt Romney, told the Herald. “What Tom Reilly has done is to delegate to Bechtel and the Turnpike Authority the power to determine what he can say, when he says it or even if he says anything at all.”

Former turnpike board member and gubernatorial candidate Christy Mihos told the Herald that “there is no legitimate reason to enter into an agreement that covers up the condition of a tunnel and the costs to repair it.”

Meanwhile, The Boston Globe reports that the investigation is looking into the possibility that the steel girders used in the roof of the tunnels are shrinking in cold weather, which is stretching a layer of waterproofing that may be allowing the water to seep in.

Engineers have put sensors into the roof to monitor what is happening. If it turns out that Bechtel failed to plan for cold temperatures, The Globe reported, it may give the state the ammunition it needs to go after the contractor.

However, there is some doubt as to what, if any, data from those tests will be made public, thanks to the confidentiality agreement. Stephanie Lovell, first assistant attorney general, told The Globe that the data would not be kept from the public indefinitely, though she did not say when it might be released.