Aggregate Industries Facing Big Dig Concrete Scandal

Concrete firm fined on water, air issuesSupplier also faces a Big Dig inquiryAggregate Industries, which is already facing an investigation into whether it delivered substandard concrete to the Big Dig, was hit yesterday with $188,000 in fines and other penalties from state environmental regulators for alleged air- and water-quality violations at nine of its local plants.The action was announced one day after Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly told The Boston Globe that his office and federal authorities have opened criminal inquiries into whether Aggregate Industries was sending the Big Dig concrete that did not meet state standards and whether it was doctoring paperwork to cover up the matter.The company is the state’s largest concrete producer.A deputy commissioner for the Department of Environmental Protection, Edward Kunce, said the environmental action — a $63,000 fine and an order that the company spend $125,000 to upgrade emissions equipment on one-third of its concrete mixer trucks — was unrelated to other investigations. The action, Kunce said, was prompted by complaints to state and federal environmental agencies in recent years. The company was accused of discharging water illegally into waterways and improperly disposing of hazarous waste related to its concrete and asphalt production.The DEP inquiry began 18 months ago, Kunce said. The penalty ranks among the largest imposed by the state.’This is probably one of our more significant enforcement actions, because of the complexity of issues and the fact that it covers nine facilities,” Kunce said. ‘When you get into the six-digit range, you’re in the top 5 percent of our actions.”Robert Peckham, head of Northeast operations for Aggregate Industries, could not be reached for comment yesterday, and Tracy A. Miner, a lawyer for the firm, declined to comment.Twice in 2003 and once in 2002, the company was hit with DEP penalties totalling roughly $50,000 for air-quality violations and other environmental issues.Aggregate Industries, recently acquired by the Swiss concrete industry titan Holcim, has bought several smaller concrete and asphalt firms over the past few years in a bid to become dominant in paving and concrete in Massachusetts. The firm provided roughly 200,000 truckloads of concrete to the Big Dig.But in the past few years, the firm has faced trouble on the legal front. In 2002, federal authorities indicted two company officials on charges that they tried to tamper with witnesses in an investigation into whether the firm had engaged in a bid-rigging scheme with another local firm on public contracts. The company was briefly barred from competing for state construction jobs after the 2002 indictments; it successfully appealed that suspsension within a few months.The two officials, William Cowhig of Topsfield and Luigi Iuliano of Winchester, pleaded guilty to witness tampering and were fined $10,000 each in April. Federal and state law enforcement sources, as well as construction industry officials, say the bid-rigging probe is still alive and has heated up recently, raising the possibility that further indictments will come before the case hits its six-year statute of limitations in October.In May of this year, a whistleblower filed a suit under seal in Suffolk Superior Court that led to the state and federal investigations that Reilly announced yesterday. He said prosecutors are focusing on allegations that the company had created false bills and documents to conceal deliveries of concrete to Big Dig job sites after inspectors had rejected them over a lack of freshness or other issues concerning quality.If any of the criminal investigations leads to further indictments, state officials said yesterday that the company may be blocked permanently from taking part in state or federal construction work.Governor Mitt Romney, a harsh critic of the Big Dig and its quality of work on the project, praised Reilly yesterday for pursuing Aggregate Industries even though it was not a prime contractor. ‘The fact that he’s now looking beyond just the contractors to those who are suppliers to contractors indicates that he’s carrying out a very through investigation,” Romney said.

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