Sacramento Bee rejects Caltrans request for retraction

06/15/2012 12:54 PM

06/16/2012 12:17 AM

The Sacramento Bee announced today that it rejected the request from the California Department of Transportation to retract a story raising questions about the structural integrity of a foundation of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

Executive Editor Joyce Terhaar said newsroom editors and reporter Charles Piller fact-checked all issues raised by Caltrans and concluded there is no reason for a retraction.

"Our story examined concerns raised by insiders at Caltrans," Terhaar said in a statement. "Our information was vetted by internationally known experts and supported by Caltrans' own documents. The point of the story remains solid after our review - independent experts do not believe existing tests support Caltrans' views."

The Bee's story, published online May 26 and in the paper May 27, explored the results of a test of the concrete in part of a foundation for the bridge. That test, called crosshole sonic logging, found a 19-foot section of concrete that had not hardened to required strength when it was tested.

In its June 7 retraction request and prior to publication, Caltrans discounted that test result. Caltrans said it did not require crosshole logging and conducted other kinds of tests after the sonic test. That view was reported in the story.

Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty wrote that Piller had been given "evidence that contradicts the story's conclusion that the bridge foundations were inadequately tested." Caltrans said other tests confirmed the soundness of the structure.

Yet experts who reviewed all the tests for The Bee before publication, and who were quoted in The Bee's story, say the other tests don't reveal whether concrete has hardened to the necessary strength.

A detailed review of Caltrans' assertions accompanies this story.

In a webinar presented today, Caltrans reviewed the construction history and testing methods of the bridge, emphasizing that the structure is safe.

"We remain puzzled that a newspaper would not want to retract clear, factual errors, but that is up to them," Tamie McGowen, Caltrans assistant director for public affairs, said in an email. "We are done debating structural engineering with the Sacramento Bee."

The $6.5 billion structure is scheduled to open in the fall of 2013.

"It is part of our public service mission to investigate concerns about public safety," Terhaar said. "It makes no sense for Caltrans, a public agency, to attack the messenger rather than immediately launch a transparent public process to determine whether the bridge will hold up when a severe earthquake hits the Bay Area."

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