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Contractors plead not guilty in asbestos indictment
By VIRGINIA HENNESSEY
Herald Salinas Bureau
March 29, 2006 - Project managers Seth Henderson, left, and Anthony Michael Jones listen to their lawyers talk with the judge during their arraignment Tuesday in Marina. Henderson, Jones and their companies, Skanska USA Building Inc. and Nova Partners Inc., were indicted by a grand jury for allegedly releasing asbestos into the ventilation system of the Salinas Courthouse.Two contracting companies and their project managers have now been indicted by a Monterey County grand jury for allegedly releasing asbestos into the ventilation system of the Salinas Courthouse.
All of the defendants pleaded not guilty in a Marina courtroom Tuesday. Visiting Judge Gary Hammer then restricted access to the facts of the case by temporarily sealing the grand jury transcript and essentially placing a gag order on the case.
Deputy Attorney General Brett Morris said the indictment is identical to and replaces a complaint filed earlier by his office, but is based on testimony heard by a criminal grand jury seated recently in the Marina Courthouse.
The indictment alleges eight felonies and five misdemeanors against Nova Partners Inc. and Skanska USA Building Inc., which are overseeing reconstruction of the north wing of the Salinas Courthouse, as well as project managers Anthony Michael Jones and Seth Henderson. Among the charges, the defendants are accused of improperly handling and disposing of asbestos, and recklessly releasing asbestos into the building's environment in a manner that risked great bodily injury or death.
If convicted of the charges, the companies face close to $3 million in fines. Jones and Henderson face up to three years in prison.
Meanwhile, costs and construction timelines on the project are climbing.
On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors approved a $1.17 million addition to the contract for abatement of hazardous materials in the building.
Included in the new order is asbestos abatement in the basement elevator and mechanical room, areas where elevated levels of asbestos were detected in February.
Also slated as previously unplanned work is extensive seismic retrofitting on the third floor and "mold abatement required in the penthouse mechanical room due to a pre-existing leak."
Workers haven't returned
Numerous employees have filed workers' compensation cases related to suspected mold contamination over the past five years. New cases have also been filed over suspected asbestos contamination.
At the same time, subcontractors who walked off the job in mid-February demanding assurances that they were not being exposed to asbestos have still not returned to the job.
Donald Diel, the certified asbestos consultant on the job, said he is scheduling more meetings with the electricians, plumbers, carpenters and ventilation workers to try to change their minds.
Earlier this month, after three days of testing in the building, Diel released a report stating "there is no reason to believe that the project has resulted in a significant health hazard to the county employees, the courtroom employees or the general public."
County spokeswoman Maia Carroll said Tuesday's approval of more than $1 million in additional costs will not be the last. Quoting Ron Lundquist, interim public works director, Carroll said additional costs are expected for ongoing air-quality testing.
The three days of testing conducted by Diel's C&W Environmental Consulting Inc. cost the county more than $20,000. In addition, Diel said he is accumulating $2,000 a day in unexpected costs to take nightly air readings and have them transported by courier to an Emeryville lab where a scientist reports at 4 a.m. to analyze the results so they can be posted at the courthouse and on the county's Web site by the beginning of business each day.
"All of this extraordinary stuff to get people relaxed is costing money," he said.
Attorneys turned out in force for Tuesday's arraignment of Nova Partners, Skanska and their project managers Henderson and Jones.
Nova attorney Allen Ruby of San Jose said the defense team had only received transcripts of the grand jury testimony on Monday. He requested that the transcripts be sealed to allow attorneys to determine if they wanted to request an extended sealing.
Judge Hammer, appointed to the case after all of Monterey County's judges recused themselves, sealed the transcripts until April 12.
Then -- citing complaints regarding statements by the Attorney General's Office to the media -- Hammer said he was "not imposing a gag order" but "requested" that attorneys not discuss the case outside of court before the next court hearing May 5.
A request by The Herald to delay a decision on the issue was denied. The attorneys agreed not to discuss anything other than the charges and pleas in the case.
In addition to setting a trial date of May 5, Hammer indicated he would hear arguments on the defense's motion for a change of venue.
The Attorney General's Office is prosecuting the case because of conflicts in the county. At least one judge, Judge Albert Maldonado, has already been subpoenaed.
Reportedly on doctors' orders, Maldonado is no longer working in the north wing of the Salinas court complex because his chambers were contaminated with high asbestos levels on at least one occasion.
Skirting Hammer's request that each side not discuss the facts in the case, spokesmen for Skanska and Nova Partners issued statements saying the companies and their employees were innocent and would "vigorously defend" the charges.
Skanska "has fully cooperated with the Attorney General's investigation and believes strongly that the filing of criminal charges is unwarranted, as well as clearly unprecedented in this industry," said spokesman Tom Crane. "At no time did Skanska violate any criminal statutes or jeopardize the safety of the people occupying the courthouse.
"We are looking forward to the opportunity to provide our side of this issue," he added, "and we are confident that when all the facts are reviewed, it will be clear these charges have no merit."
Virginia Hennessey can be reached at 753-6751 or vhennessey@monterey
Bethel High to reopen Tuesday after asbestos scare
May 28 2006 - BETHEL After being closed for two days because of asbestos concerns, Bethel High School will reopen Tuesday.
The school was closed Thursday and Friday. Results from the latest air test samples came back clear, First Selectman Bob Burke said.
Of the 25 samples taken Thursday, 24 were completely clear and one was well below the U.S. Federal Protection Agencys standard for asbestos concentrations.
Ten air samples taken Wednesday night also came back clear of airborne asbestos. Costs for the sample testing, Burke said, were more than $6,000.
In a letter faxed to the town Friday, the president of Eagle Environmental, the company that did the testing, gave the OK on the high school building.
The air sample results indicate further that the quality of the air within the school is suitable for immediate reoccupancy, Raymond Folino wrote.
this story has 2 comments. Post Comment
Posted by: brookfieldparents.org
Tue, May 30 2006
It is unacceptable and dangerous that Mr. Skomro and the DPH did not follow their own recommendations to protect the health of hundreds of our children. Call the Dept. of Public Health yourself at (860) 509 7293, and ask for the director, Dr. Galvin and ask why they aren't doing what's best and safest for children in schools. These are schools, not factories.
I asked Mr. Skomro why he didn't follow DPH recommendations to test school surfaces for asbestos dust, instead of only air tests and how does he know it's safe for the children to go into the cafeterias at Bethel HS and at Huckleberry Elementary in Brookfield tomorrow, he said "I don't have any data to point to at this point in time."
Transcripts of his statements will be on BrookfieldParents.org soon.
Ask Dr. Galvin why 2 schools in NJ and Mass, just LAST WEEK did asbestos dust testing when they found asbestos in their cafeterias, AND especially they cleaned the abestos floors with HEPA, so tell him to do the same recommended asbestos dust surface testing and cleaning for our children.
Get more info and sign the petition at www .BrookfieldParents.org
Posted by: brookfieldparents.org
Mon, May 29 2006
Please see our earlier comments on all the recent school asbestos articles. Children in Schools should be protected by higher safety standards than factory workers, but they're not. Children's lungs and tissues are more vulnerable to carcinogens and particulates such as asbestos. There is still a long term asbestos risk which the DPH and EPA are covering up in all schools. The 25 tests were all air tests, while there was no student activity in the school, stirring up all the surfaces where the asbestos dust settle. Surface dust testing is more important in schools, because kids get into high contact with all kinds of school surfaces, which may be covered with asbestos dust accumualted over the years, then breath it or ingest it.
I was so concerned, that I called Mr. Skomro at the DPH and asked why DPH only recommended air tests, since the study DPH did last year recommended surface dust testing for all high contact areas in schools. He said, "I don't have any information on that, that is a discussion for another time" If school will reopen tomorrow, this is a critical time. I asked that without following the DPH recommendations to test school surfaces for asbestos dust, how does he know it's safe for the children to go into the cafeterias at Bethel HS and at Huckleberry Elementary in Brookfield, he said "I don't have data to point to at this point in time."
It is unacceptable and dangerous that Mr. Skomro and the DPH did not follow their own recommendations to protect the health of hundreds of our children. Call the director of public health yourself and ask why they aren't doing what's best and safest for children in schools, these are not factories. Get more info and sign the petition at www.BrookfieldParents.org