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A Hummel Report Investigation

Hidden Truth

For years motorists in the East Bay couldn't figure out why the Barrington Bridge was taking so long - and costing so much - to finish. This week: the president of the company that was being blamed by the Rhode Island Department of Transportation talks publicly with Jim Hummel, for the first time, about a confidential report that now puts the blame on the D.O.T., costing taxpayers millions of extra dollars. And, he says, the problems go much deeper.

Click HERE to see the report from the Dept. of Administration determining DOT was at fault.

SCRIPT

Hummel: For years, the Shire Corporation got the blame for highly-publicized construction delays here on the Barrington Bridge. This week, the president of the company speaks publicly for the first time - now that a confidential report has come out - putting the blame squarely on the state D.O.T.

Motorists  in the East Bay wondered if the new Barrington Bridge would ever be finished. 

After all, it was years behind schedule and more than double the original $10 million cost.

In 2004, work had inexplicably  ground to a halt.  And stayed that way for two and a half years.

Meanwhile,  Senator David Bates of Barrington left status meetings at the state Department of Transportation with little doubt as to who was at fault.

Hummel: ``What was the word from the D.O.T out to you for all of these delays  and the resulting frustration for motorist? What were they telling you?''

Sen. Bates: ``Basically it was the fault of Shire Corporation.''

Hummel: ``No  doubt in your mind?''

Sen. Bates: ``No.''

It turns out the DOT wasn't giving Sen. Bates, or the general public, the whole story. A confidential  report that state officials never expected to be released, became public in November as part of a lawsuit Shire filed two years ago against the state - not only about issues with the Barrington Bridge, but what it claims is a an ongoing D.O.T vendetta against Shire and a concerted effort to freeze the company out of future projects.

Gammino: ``They didn't want to make the designers look foolish and they tried to hide the problem.''

Shire President Thomas Gammino,  in his first extended interview, tells the Hummel Report Shire has been blacklisted by the D.O.T since the previously confidential report put blame for the Barrington Bridge situation squarely in DOT's lap. The report was prepared by a lawyer for the Department of Administration called in to referee back in 2006.

Gammino: ``When people called us we tried to explain what the situation was. I think  what people don't understand is when a contactor bids a job, he's given a set of plans, and you bid according to those plans.''

Shire told D.O.T in 2004 it couldn't build the bridge according to the designs  it received from the state.  But the DOT didn't respond. For months.  And by failing to figure out how to deal with those errors, the D.O.T was responsible for a two and a half year delay - a delay that officials at the time blamed publicly on Shire - when they knew differently.

Gammino: ``For us to say as a contractor, or any contractor to say: `Oh it's not our fault,' meanwhile the state is saying it is your fault. People are going to believe the state.''

Hummel: ``Is that a losing public relations battle for you?''

Gammino: ``Yes. Oh yes.''

Hummel: ``What if you had built it according to their specs that  you knew were wrong, was your concern that that would ultimately open you up down the line. Defective bridge, in effect?"

Gammino: ``You couldn't build it as designed. You couldn't and you wouldn't . When you know something's wrong, you can't just say the state's telling me to do it so I'm going to do it, because ultimately we're going to be held responsible."

The report said the state would likely lose any lawsuit brought by Shire concerning the Barrington Bridge situation. As a result it recommended the state's taxpayers give Shire an extra $5.3 million to settle the dispute. Shire wanted $13 million.

Kelly: ``Instead  of sitting down with Shire and working with them, the put their head in the sand and took the position,  it was not their fault, it was Shire's."

Michael Kelly is a Providence attorney representing Shire in a lawsuit the company filed in 2009 against the D.O.T. He says the Barrington Bridge project is the tip of the iceberg.

Shire also had problems with D.O.T on the Point Street bridge a year earlier, resulting in an eight month delay and added costs picked up by the taxpayers. After the Barrington settlement, Kelly says several higher-ups in the department went on the warpath, moving to have Shire suspended from the Federal Highway Administration list of  contractors. Shire was taken off,  then eventually reinstated after an investigation by the feds found removal was unwarranted - despite D.O.T's pleadings otherwise.

That didn't add up for Senator Bates,  given what D.O.T had been telling him.

Sen. Bates: ``The thing that put the biggest question in my mind was when Shire was taken off the bid list, then Federal Highway put them back on.''

Hummel: ``Public sentiment,  there was frustration with D.O.T, but there was even more frustration with Shire, in the court of public opinion."

Kelly: ``  Of course, because they had fomented that public opinion by giving false information and some  of them, excepting Director Lewis, outright lied to the public about the issues on the Barrington Bridge. Several members  of D.O.T,  some  of which are still there,  went on a vendetta to seek retribution against Shire.

Kelly singled out Norman Mazano, a managing  engineer.

Richard Fondi, who heads up the division that does the final inspections on projects.

And Deputy Chief Engineer Frank Corrao , who has been one of the public faces for D.O.T and always available when we asked for comment on various projects. But this week, the D.O.T declined our request for an on-camera interview with Corrao, instead issuing a statement about how Michael Lewis worked hard to expedite the bridge construction since taking over as director in 2008.

We  sent a list of follow-up questions - asking whether anybody within the department had been disciplined or whether D.O.T owed the taxpayers, and the motorists, an apology.

The D.O.T responded: ``The terms of the settlement agreement required that the disposition of the claims be without any admission of liability, wrongdoing or improper conduct by any of the parties.  No individuals were disciplined as a result of the events leading to the D.O.A settlement.''

D.O.T also said it is vigorously defending in court Shire's claims - outlined in our interview with Gammino and Kelly - and that Shire has received work from the state since 2006. The department also said projects are competitively bid, public and not subject to influence by any individual.

Kwlly: ``They just had a single-minded idea that they do nothing wrong, they did nothing wrong, and the design consultant did nothing wrong, when in fact as you now from the report, that is just not the case."

But the D.O.T was concerned about the public fallout if what happened leaked out. So, Kelly says, the department took another tack.

Kelly: ``We've got 50 emails documenting false information given to the Federal Highway Administration about Shire, which ended up resulting in a suspension, that the federal government then lifted, after we were able to provide information to them and to set the record straight so to speak."

Kelly also dropped this bombshell for motorists in the East Bay who suffered through years of traffic delays.

Kelly: ``The D.O.T could have accelerated the bridge for very, very small  money,  in the scheme of things. I'm taking $400,000 or $500,000 - could have accelerated that bridge by a year and a half, because of the bad feelings that they had toward Shire, they refused to accelerate the bridge, even though in the long run it would have cost pennies based on the entire cost of the bridge of about $23 million or $24 million.''

Hummel: ``Is your feeling that Mr.Corrao and others went down a road that they just couldn't come back on, they got too far down that road?"

Kelly: ``I think that's probably a fair statement, Jim. They started a kind of snowball that they just couldn't stop. Once they said it was Shire's fault and kept pointing the finger - and went so public with it, there wasn't an opportunity, I don't think, for them to step back. Some of the people that were were involved in the Barrington Bridge fiasco who are still there are still causing the same kind of problems  today for other contactors."

Hummel: ``But nobody loses a paycheck, nobody loses a pension, nobody loses a job."

Kelly: ``I haven't seen,  and I've been practicing for 33 years in the construction area  and I've been in involved with D.O.T for 33 years. I can't recall who hadn't committed a criminal offense ever being held accountable by any director in the past. To this day they have not pursued the approximate $9 million it cost the taxpayers to have the bridge basically redesigned and rebuilt as a result of those design plans."

Thomas Gammino says there need to be a shakeup at D.O.T.

Gammino: ``At some point they need to make changes - because the state is suffering as a whole, the contractors are suffering, but the taxpayers are suffering."

In Barrington, Jim Hummel, for The Hummel Report.

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