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Friday, September 7, 2007

Schwebel's experts get access to bridge site

Jim Schwebel reports that the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the Attorney General have allowed his expert witnesses on to the site of the 35-W bridge collapse. Five bridge experts employed by the law firm were finally allowed near the bridge collapse site on Thursday, Sept. 6, Schwebel said.

U.S. District Court Judge Patrick Schiltz denied the firm access to the site last month. But negotiations with the state proceeded. At this time, parts of the bridge site are controlled by the state and parts by the federal goverment. The state allowed access to "its" areas, said Schwebel.

The National Transportation Safety Board is another story, however. Schwebel reported that the NTSB still controls part of the site and has refused access--even to the extent of banning photographs taken from areas of the site it didn't control.
Schwebel calls this an example of "remarkable insensitivity" and a "turf war." They NTSB has offered no rational basis for refusing to allow photos, he said. Ultimately the NTSB's conclusions about the bridge collapse may be supported, but the NTSB isn't the only source of expertise in this area, Schwebel observed. However, he is confident that ultimately his experts will collect all the information his clients require, he added.

Bridge experts appearing on behalf of the survivors included representatives of Weidlinger & Associates Consulting Engineers, which in the past was involved in the investigation of the collapse of the World Trade Center Towers, Marcy Pedestrian Bridge, Tropicana Hotel & Casino parking ramp, and numerous other catastrophic structural failures, said Schwebel. Also present were representatives of Sam Schwartz, PLLC, and Barsom Consulting, Ltd., both of which are also internationally known for their expertise in fracture mechanics, failure analysis and bridge collapse, he said.

"We are grateful for MnDOT’s cooperation and for its recognition of the fact that the bridge survivors are entitled to have their own independent evaluation of this tragedy,” Schwebel said.

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