- The Washington Times - Friday, July 14, 2006

Governor wrests control of Big Dig

BOSTON — Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney seized control yesterday of inspections in the Big Dig highway system where a woman was killed by falling concrete, saying an independent assessment was necessary to restore public trust.

Inspectors had pinpointed at least 242 points where bolts were separating from tunnel ceilings, and their review was continuing.

The Republican governor signed emergency legislation yesterday morning that gives him ultimate say on when the tunnels reopen, taking that power away from the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority. State lawmakers had approved the bill Thursday within hours of Mr. Romney’s request.

The state’s congressional delegation on Thursday asked the National Transportation Safety Board to lead the investigation, saying it is one of the few agencies without any apparent involvement in the Big Dig.

The eastbound section of the Interstate 90 connector tunnel under South Boston, part of the main route to Logan International Airport, has been closed since late Monday.

Michael Lewis, the Big Dig director, said inspectors found 50 bolt assemblies had come loose in the eastbound section of the tunnel where Milena Del Valle was killed — plus 68 suspect assemblies in the westbound section, 45 in the section carrying carpool traffic, and 79 in ramps connecting I-90 with Interstate 93.

Democrats pull ad showing caskets

ROCK HILL, S.C. — Democrats pulled an Internet ad that showed flag-draped coffins yesterday after Republicans and at least two Democrats demanded it be taken down on grounds the image was insensitive and not fit for a political commercial.

The ad by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) called for a “new direction” and displayed a staccato of images, including war scenes, pollution and breached levees as well as a photograph of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, doctored to look like a police mug shot.

Democrats had featured the video ad for nearly two weeks on the DCCC Web site, where it had gone largely unnoticed until Republicans began objecting to it this week. On Thursday, more than a dozen Republicans called on DCCC Chairman Rahm Emanuel of Illinois to apologize. Democratic Reps. John M. Spratt Jr. of South Carolina and Chet Edwards of Texas asked Mr. Emanuel to pull or alter the ad.

Wall in terror plot put under guard

NEW YORK — A wall that suspects in a terrorist plot hoped to destroy to unleash a catastrophic flood in Lower Manhattan was quietly put under 24-hour protection in recent weeks once details of the plot began to emerge, two law-enforcement officials said.

The suspects hoped to bring down the so-called slurry wall, which keeps the water from the Hudson River out of the World Trade Center site, the officials told the Associated Press on Thursday. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because the scheme was still under investigation.

A yearlong investigation revealed that the eight suspects “specifically wanted to take out the slurry wall in hopes of flooding the financial district,” one of the officials said.

The vulnerability of the wall — viewed each day by hundreds of tourists visiting ground zero — became a concern for law enforcement and engineers after the September 11 terror attacks.

Student silenced on religion sues

LAS VEGAS — A high school valedictorian who had the plug pulled on her microphone as she gave an address referring to Jesus Christ has filed a lawsuit against school officials, claiming her rights to religious freedom and free speech were trampled.

Brittany McComb, 18, said she was giving her June 15 commencement address to about 400 graduates of Foothill High School and their family members when the sound was cut.

“God’s love is so great that He gave His only Son up,” she said, before the microphone went dead. She continued without amplification, “… to an excruciating death on a cross so His blood would cover all our shortcomings and provide for us a way to heaven in accepting this grace.”

Miss McComb’s lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court of Nevada, names the principal, assistant principal and the employee of the school in Henderson who purportedly pulled the plug.

School district attorney Bill Hoffman has said that the school was following rulings from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that have obligated districts to censor student speeches for proselytizing.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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