Federal judge keeps lawyers away from disaster site

  • Updated: August 15, 2007 - 9:46 PM

A Minneapolis personal-injury law firm won't be given access to the Interstate 35W bridge collapse site, U.S. District Judge Patrick Schiltz ruled Wednesday shortly after a half-hour hearing in St. Paul.

A Minneapolis personal-injury law firm won't be given access to the Interstate 35W bridge collapse site, U.S. District Judge Patrick Schiltz ruled Wednesday shortly after a half-hour hearing in St. Paul.

In the first legal action to come out of the bridge collapse, Schwebel, Goetz & Sieben filed a petition in federal court Monday seeking access to the site no later than Tuesday. The firm wanted to gather evidence about the Aug. 1 bridge collapse for potential personal-injury and wrongful-death lawsuits. The firm is working with several victims, survivors and their families, but has declined to identify them.

After the ruling, attorney Richard Nygaard, who argued on behalf of the firm, said he didn't know what next steps the firm would take. "It doesn't look like we're getting on the bridge, that's for sure," he said.

In a 10-page ruling, Schiltz said he was not aware of any case in which a federal court allowed "private attorneys and their agents to inspect the site of a mass disaster while recovery efforts are still ongoing."

His ruling said the firm should ask the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) for access to the site and, if denied, appeal through the administrative process. Nygaard said in court that he expected the NTSB to deny access and that the appeals process could take weeks during which evidence would be destroyed.

ROCHELLE OLSON

MnDOT looking into a light rail-ready bridge

MnDOT officials overseeing construction of the new I-35W bridge said Wednesday that they are looking into what it might take to make the bridge light rail-ready.

The 10-lane bridge will be designed to accommodate a lane for buses, high-occupancy vehicles or toll traffic, but the weight of light-rail trains would mean different construction standards and possibly higher costs.

Speaking at a meeting of the Metropolitan Council's Transportation Advisory Board, MnDOT area manager Tom O'Keefe said it might not be safe to assume that making the bridge light-rail ready would be cheaper than building a separate rail bridge later. He and Jon Chiglo, project manager for the new bridge, said the department is looking into the cost and space considerations.

Wednesday's discussion was not focused on any particular light-rail route.

MnDOT will hold a three-hour open house today for the public to ask questions and offer comments about the replacement bridge. The event starts at 4:30 p.m. today at Roseville Area High School, 1240 West County Road B2 in Roseville.

JIM FOTI

Not to be forgotten: A memorial to victims

A memorial to the victims of the collapse will be part of the new bridge, and designers will be looking for ideas for the memorial from the public and elsewhere, MnDOT area manager Tom O'Keefe said Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak suggested that a memorial could be part of the replacement bridge, the 10th Avenue bridge or at a nearby site.

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