Friday, December 21, 2007

HNTB; Making the study fit the conclusion

It's no secret that HNTB is the Wisconsin Department of Transportation's favorite engineering firm and one of Gov. Jim Doyle's favorite finacial donors. It's also been suggested more than once that HNTB manages to ensure that its transportation studies (meaning "freeway widening" studies) arrive at pre-determined outcomes. Now, out of the great state of Minnesota, are stories that HNTB may have worked its magic to come to a conclusion that it's perfectly fine to develop commercial properties in the exact places that jets are most likely to crash if they don't quite make it to the airport. From the Minneapolis StarTribune:

A key part of the board's argument rested on a study that MAC (Metropolitan Airports Commission) had received from a consulting firm that had ties to airport officials and had received more than $50 million in contracts from MAC over the years. The consultant, HNTB Corp., was hired by MAC to study adjacent lands as part of the proposal to build the new runway. In a September 1997 memo to MAC, a HNTB official said the study would help "document a request for relaxation of land use requirements" in the safety zone.

"Make the case based on balance between probability of an accident and potential costs of severe regulation of land uses," the memo said.

HNTB did exactly that.

By April 2002, HNTB provided research that was beneficial to MAC, the developers and the surrounding communities. The report concluded that the risk of a fatal jetliner crash in the safety zones was very slight.

Nigel Finney, MAC's development director, said, "Our intent was always to do what we needed to do to run a safe airport."

Rought's aeronautics staff found flaws in the study -- the report did not correlate an airplane crash to the probability of death of people on the ground.

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