- Adam Wickham
The people who sold Multnomah County the new, now-damaged deck plaguing the Morrison Bridge have a few things they'd rather not have to explain in open court.
More than a few things, actually. ZellComp, the North Carolina company that designed and marketed the plastic deck breaking apart on the Morrison today, lays out 53 individual pieces of evidence [pdf] in a recent memo to the court, calling the exhibits "hearsay, and prejudicial, and irrelevant.
The trouble for ZellComp—along with Strongwell, the co-defendant whose staff actually manufactured the decking and began sending e-mails to one another questioning its quality—is that a Multnomah County judge has already ruled the evidence can be shown.
"To be clear: ZellComp has asserted and will assert other objections to some of these exhibits (as well as other exhibits)," the company wrote in the memo, filed last Friday. "Those objections are not waived or withdrawn. For example, ZellComp has objected to many of these documents as hearsay."
At stake in the trial is more than $6 million the county says it's lost on the disastrous bridge project. Officials are currently exploring how to replace the deck.
Here are just a few salient passages the people who sold us a bridge—in both a literal and figurative sense—would rather not be aired (red boxes in some shots are my additions). Need more context? It's here :
• This June 2011 email was sent by a Strongwell sales manager at a time when the company was testing the polymer it was creating for the Morrison. The testing showed the material was strong, but not able to satisfy some requirements for stiffness—called "modulus." So the manager, Glenn Barefoot, told staff to only show average stiffness readings to a Multnomah County inspector, not more precise findings.
• More of the same, from another Strongwell employee. This e-mail suggests Strongwell and ZellComp were quietly plotting to "attempt to sell" the product to Multnomah County, despite the stiffness concerns. Not heartening.
• Barefoot sent this email in October 2011, after a batch of decking had shown up in Portland with what appeared to be cracks running along the base of a crucial support. Strongwell's attorney has argued that Barefoot's reference to "a much more serious issue" in the email had to do with the possibility Multnomah County would reject the entire order of panels. That's not how the message reads at all.
• Here's Barefoot again! This time he's closing out a long email to the president of ZellComp, Dan Richards. The message touched on a number of issues, the most worrying of which was that a new batch of decking material had come out significantly weaker than the first, and no one really knew why (this is the material breaking most violently up on the Morrison today). As you can see, Barefoot wasn't interested in letting Multnomah County officials in on that information.
• Finally, the crown jewel of these emails: A November 2011 e-mail from a Strongwell quality control inspector, clearly very worried that the decking the company had supplied Multnomah County was going to fail, and that his future could be on the line.