Legal team is given access to bridge site

  • Article by: MARIA ELENA BACA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 7, 2007 - 10:44 PM

Parts of the bridge that the experts examined were released by the National Transportation Safety Board.

Bridge experts hired by a Minneapolis law firm were granted access Thursday to limited portions of the collapsed Interstate 35W bridge.

On Thursday morning, a team of internationally recognized experts whose previous projects include the World Trade Center Towers, the Tropicana Hotel & Casino parking ramp and other structural collapses, examined previously restricted portions of the north and south land-bound ends of the bridge on behalf of Schwebel, Goetz & Sieben, which is representing the families of several of those killed on the bridge, as well as injured survivors.

The parts of the bridge the team inspected have been released by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and are under the control of the Minnesota Department of Transportation, said Jim Schwebel, the law firm's president. He said it's too soon to comment on what the experts saw.

"I would say their inspections answered many questions but raised many more," he said.

Last month, U.S. District Judge Patrick Schiltz ruled that the NTSB would be gatekeeper to the bridge site; to date, the law firm has been granted access only to sites that have been passed out of the control of the federal agency.

"The Minnesota Department of Transportation has been extremely cooperative in making available for inspection those parts that are under its control," Schwebel said Friday. "The NTSB has relinquished parts of the site to the Department of Transportation, and in the future we expect that they will relinquish more of the site to MnDOT, and at that time it will be available for further evaluation."

Schwebel said the firm will continue to lobby the NTSB for more access to the site.

"It's basically a turf war," he said. "They don't want anybody else examining or photographing evidence until they are good and ready, even if that does damage to the rights of the survivors. ... There's a risk to letting the government tell you a year and a half later what they think, and we don't want to run that risk."

Chris Messerly, of the law firm Robins Kaplan Miller and Ciresi, spokesman for the consortium of attorneys doing pro-bono legal work for other bridge collapse survivors and families, said they also are in the process of getting investigative access to the bridge.

Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409

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