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State lawmakers intend to launch a bridge investigation

By Brian Bakst

Associated Press

ST. PAUL — The latest dustup over the Minneapolis bridge collapse involves how many "who’s" should be searching for the "why."

State lawmakers announced this week that they would spend up to $500,000 to hire legal counsel to aid in a legislative inquiry into the collapse. That brought to four the number of official investigations following the Interstate 35W bridge incident, which killed 13 people.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty on Friday vouched for the integrity of probes by the National Transportation Safety Board, an engineering firm working under a $2 million state contract and the Office of the Legislative Auditor. He suggested the extra scrutiny was rooted in politics.

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"Frankly, a part of this is somebody’s concern that somebody else’s conclusion doesn’t fit into their story line," Pawlenty said on his weekly radio show.

The Legislature’s contract went to the Minneapolis law firm of Gray Plant Mooty. The firm will do investigative work on behalf of a special House-Senate committee established soon after the Aug. 1 collapse. Aside from the I35W bridge, the panel is delving into broader maintenance and management decisions at the Department of Transportation

"I don’t understand what their big objection is," Senate Transportation Chairman Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, said in response to Pawlenty’s comments. "I wonder now if he’s worried we’re going to find something he doesn’t want us to know about."

While Republican legislators have largely criticized the decision to hire Gray Plant Mooty, one GOP senator described it as a "valid and useful exercise done in the best interests of Minnesotans."

In a written statement Friday, Sen. Mike Jungbauer of East Bethel disputed claims that the firm’s work would duplicate the other inquiries.

Jungbauer said the additional probe "is needed because the other investigations only focus on the physical failure leading to the collapse without determining its underlying cause. It’s important to find out who is at fault and ultimately liable."

The Minneapolis firm was chosen by a bipartisan panel of lawmakers that interviewed five candidates for the assignment. The names of the other four have not been disclosed and Murphy refused to release them on Friday, citing advice from the Senate’s lawyers.

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