The lawyer who represented many of the victims of the Interstate 35W bridge collapse said he would “think twice” about giving the bridge’s state consultant -- URS Corp. -- more state business.
Chris Messerly, an attorney for many of the victims of the 2007 tragedy, made his comments in response to a report that the Metropolitan Council is considering giving URS a major contract for the proposed Southwest Corridor light rail line in the Twin Cities.
“You kind of have to think twice as to why the state would hire them yet again given their track record in our state,” he said. “We uncovered a lot of issues that were extremely troubling to us” regarding the 35W bridge collapse.
“This wasn’t in our view just a negligent actor. It was someone who deliberately disregarded the public safety,” said Messerly.
“Maybe they’ve remedied all those problems – I don’t know,” he added. “But, certainly, if someone’s going to hire them they better look to see if URS has fixed their problems that led to the I-35W bridge collapsing.”
The San Francisco-based URS was a state consultant on the 35W bridge before it collapsed, and paid $52.4 million in 2010 to settle a lawsuit brought for killed and injured motorists who were on the bridge when it fell.
A URS spokesman said the company was only a consultant to the Minnesota Department of Transportation, and that the National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the collapse was due to a decades-old design flaw compounded by extra weight on the bridge.
URS spokesman Ronald Low said the company’s team for the light rail contract was “uniquely qualified.” He added: “We strongly disagree with the issues that were raised.”
The Met Council has acknowledged that URS is on a short list of contractors for a preliminary and final engineering contract that would span six years at a cost of between $90 million and $100 million.
While he was running for governor in 2010, Gov. Mark Dayton said he was “just outraged” by documents showing URS' conduct prior to the bridge collapse. Dayton at the time said that, if elected, he would issue an executive order barring URS from receiving state contracts at least until lawsuits regarding the bridge collapse were settled.
Dayton however said last week he was still troubled by URS’ possible hiring. “The governor has very strong concerns about the state doing business with URS, and has expressed those concerns to [Met Council chair] Susan Haigh as well,” said Dayton spokesperson Katharine Tinucci.
The chief House author for a new Minnesota Vikings stadium outlined a roadmap Wednesday for approval at the state Capitol – setting up a tight and politically dicey time table for a major piece of legislation.
Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, the chief House author, said the stadium legislation would now likely not be introduced until Monday, five days before the first deadline at the state Capitol for proposals to pass through a committee. The legislation would be introduced Monday, he said, “unless something comes up that delays it.”
The timing is now critical because Republican leaders, who control both the House and Senate, have talked about adjourning in late April.
Lanning acknowledged that many may be surprised that legislation still had not been formally introduced at the state Capitol, even though a week had passed since Gov. Mark Dayton, the city of Minneapolis and the Vikings announced they had reached a tentative agreement to build the $975 million stadium.
“It was natural for people to think that when [we had] this big announcement last Thursday everything was all set to go and deal was done,” he said. “But, you know, we only had a framework. We had terms of agreement. We had a term sheet.
“We have to turn that into language across the board and, yes, we’ve been working on language for months. But until you know what the final terms are, you can’t finish that language,” said Lanning.
Lanning however said there was still time to win approval, and said the proposal would likely move through four committees in the House – the plan would face a separate path in the Senate.
He said the proposal would first be heard by the House Commerce and Regulatory Reform Committee. He said he felt the 22-member panel, chaired by Rep. Joe Hoppe, R-Chaska, contained legislators who were “open and favorable” to the stadium proposal.
“I think it’s still quite possible for us to do [this],” he said of passing the stadium legislation this spring. “Are we on a tight schedule? Absolutely.
“I think it’s possible for us to get through a policy committee next week,” he added. “Will we be able to meet committee deadlines the way we’d like to? That’s yet to be determined.”
By KEVIN DUCHSCHERE
Only a day before Gov. Mark Dayton’s deadline for Vikings stadium proposals, a dark horse named Shakopee came up fast from the outside track and beat expected competitors Arden Hills and Minneapolis to the governor’s “in” basket.
Shakopee Mayor Brad Tabke, in office just a couple weeks, headlined a presentation Wednesday at the State Capitol for a plan to build a $920 million stadium on a 130-acre site in an industrial area near Hwys. 101 and 169 east of downtown Shakopee.
“We believe that we have the best site, that will be the easiest to develop ... the cheapest in cost and the second largest in land acreage,” said Tabke, 32, a property services executive with an Eagan company.
The site has two owners, both of whom are interested in selling, Tabke said; much of it used to be a dot-com firm that went bust some time ago. It’s close to major highways, can accommodate tailgaters with up to 22,000 parking spaces, and is close to the metro area’s Vikings fan base and the team’s headquarters in Eden Prairie.
Shakopee leaders and supportive legislators said the city handles 6 million visitors a year to Valley Fair, Canterbury Downs and other local attractions. Infrastructure costs would be minimal compared to the other sites, they said.
Their cost breakdown? The Vikings would pay $400 million, and the balance would come from a Racino at Canterbury Downs and user fees for lottery scratch-offs, ticket surcharges, naming rights and Vikings license plates. No income or sales taxes would be used.
“If you use the stadium, you pay for it. If you don’t, you won’t,” said Cory Merrifield, founder of stadium advocate group Save the Vikes.
“I have never had a preferred site, but now I do,” said state Sen. Claire Robling, R-Jordan, one of the Senate’s new assistant majority leaders.
Asked if a new stadium proposal was realistic at so late a date, Tabke said that they had met the deadline that Dayton had imposed. He said that new problems seemed to pop up every day with the sites under consideration for months.
Vikings officials said they’re grateful for the efforts but are sticking with Arden Hills as their preferred site, Merrifield said.
Tabke was asked at the news conference what he was going to do in his third week in office.
“I’m going to take a nap,” he said.
By MIKE KASZUBA and RACHEL E. STASSEN-BERGER
Gov. Mark Dayton said Wednesday he learned just five days ago that state Attorney General Lori Swanson had in late July dismissed the Dorsey & Whitney law firm as the state’s bond counsel.
In a surprise move, Swanson’s office sent a July 29 letter to Dorsey & Whitney notifying one of Minnesota’s most prominent law firms that its five-decade run as the state’s bond counsel was ending. Dorsey & Whitney served as bond counsel to the Minnesota Management and Budget Office, the state’s main finance office whose commissioner reports to the governor.
Dayton and Swanson are both DFLers and the 600-lawyer law firm, headquartered in Minneapolis, includes former Democratic Vice President Walter Mondale as a senior counsel.
At the State Capitol, Swanson’s office sits across the hall from the governor’s office.
“I was told about it last Friday,” Dayton said. “It’s entirely the attorney general’s decision – prerogative – under state law, and that’s well established.”
The governor said Wednesday he did not yet know the details regarding the decision, and said he could not comment on the move. “I heard from” the Minnesota Management and Budget Office, he said. “I don’t know when they were told.”
In explaining its decision, Swanson’s office said it was concerned with ethical conflicts that Dorsey & Whitney had in both representing the state and also representing private companies that had business before the state or had filed lawsuits against the state.
The state attorney general’s office also said that Dorsey & Whitney’s previous work representing tobacco companies against the state presented a “serious and irreconcilable conflict of interest” during the just-concluded state government shutdown. Because the budget solution between Dayton and Republican legislative leaders included a plan to rely on income the state gets from its lawsuit against the tobacco companies, Swanson’s office explained, it was necessary to hire another law firm to serve as bond counsel.
“No vendor of the state should have a permanent monopoly on government projects,” Swanson said in a statement issued through a spokesman.
Swanson has declined to be interviewed regarding the decision.
Starting this morning, former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Kathleen Blatz began hearing from Minnesotans requesting shutdown funding.
Here's the list of petitioners on her Friday docket: