By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Soneff, the attorney currently suing Lincoln on behalf of a Westside building- owners group, asserts just that. He interprets Lincoln’s Beltway antics as an attempt to avoid self-inflicted liability. "Why else would Lincoln hire lobbyists to create a dummy coalition and extract taxpayers’ money if Lincoln was not a central cause of the enormous problem with tall buildings in California?" says Soneff, reiterating a claim he’s made in court filings. "Lincoln has been caught with its hand in the Washington cookie jar."
Neither Lincoln officials nor Panetta responded to numerous requests for comment. But after a March article in the Weeklyon the weld problems, Lincoln responded via e-mail to the engineering community at large. "The San Bernardino project was specified by Congress, funded by FEMA [the Federal Emergency Management Agency], and is controlled by FEMA," wrote Lincoln spokesman Roy Morrow. "To the extent that Lincoln’s financial contributions may have, however indirectly, assisted in these results, Lincoln is pleased and proud."
The $5 million in federal funds was secured by San Bernardino–area Congressman Jerry Lewis, a business-friendly Republican who received campaign donations from both Lincoln’s lobbyist and the wives of two Lincoln executives. The money will pay for a retrofit test on a building that was constructed with Lincoln’s NS-3M welds on the Cal State San Bernardino campus. The university had not applied for these funds, so it was forced to play catch-up with the paperwork, filling out required federal applications for money that was ready and waiting. Lincoln was certainly eager to help get things rolling. Shortly after the congressional appropriation, Lincoln’s Duane Miller, along with a Lincoln lobbyist and an aide from Congressman Lewis’ office, met with Cal State officials to explain exactly how the project would proceed.
But like NS-3M in an earthquake, this carefully plotted plan began to crack under stress. For instance, one of the anticipated collaborators on the project, an L.A.-based engineering firm apparently favored by Lincoln, no longer has an inside track on designing the project. This firm, Myers, Nelson & Houghton, was required to compete with more than a dozen other engineering firms for the gig. That was potentially unwelcome news for Lincoln, because Myers, Nelson & Houghton sells a welding brace that could be used for a low-cost retrofit design. In fact, Cal State officials now report that this firm elected not to submit a bid by last week’s deadline.
College officials have determined to open the door to a range of alternatives not tied to the financial interests of one or two companies.
Those submitting proposals include the government-funded SAC council. (SAC’s acronym is pieced together using a single initial from the titles of professional associations serving engineers, scientists and academics respectively.) SAC has studied the problem of cracked steel-frame connections since early 1994, and, in the words of Bill Holmes, its chairman, "This unusual opportunity is a perfect fit for SAC’s organization, capabilities and purpose." Which begs the question why it wasn’t informed about the project from the beginning. SAC chairman Holmes admitted he has no answer for that.
But one clue might be SAC’s history with Lincoln. It was SAC that, in 1995, issued preliminary guidelines recommending a ban on Lincoln’s product. By and large, elected officials have not acted on this advice, and SAC itself has come under heated criticism for not doing more about the dangerous welds. Some engineers have suggested that SAC is not worthy to manage the research, or that it would be unethical for the government-supported council to grab the new federal funds.
To date, Lincoln’s brittle NS-3M remains legal in most jurisdictions. In fact, Lincoln has a major stake in protecting a worldwide market for these welds. In earthquake-prone Latin America, the weld is popular because "there’s nothing to dispose of, it’s cheap, and you don’t really have to train specific welders to utilize the product," says Armando Escober, who will oversee the research on behalf of Cal State San Bernardino.
Escober, who describes Lincoln’s early involvement with the project as "damage control," added that the university will avoid involvement with Lincoln from this point forward. "We never asked for this grant, but what we’re doing now is making sure that this project runs smoothly. And we want to come up with a good, good [retrofit] system."