California bullet train consultant put on suspension for ethics review

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fresno river viaduct construction
Fresno River Viaduct construction in 2016

The California bullet train’s top consultant has been put on suspension after a state watchdog agency began reviewing his approval of a multimillion-dollar contract for a company in which he had heavily invested, The Los Angeles Times has reported.

Roy Hill, deputy chief operating officer for the California High-Speed Rail Authority and a senior executive at the lead consulting firm WSP, signed a $51-million change order for the construction team led by the Spanish firm Dragados. It happened in the same year he may have owned more than $100,000 of stock in Jacobs Engineering, which is part of the Dragados team, the newspaper says records show.

Assemblyman Jim Patterson (R-Fresno), a longtime critic of the rail project, requested the state Fair Political Practices Commission to launch an investigation into Hill’s actions and holdings. On June 3, WSP suspended Hill at the direction of the rail authority, pending the outcome of the FPPC review , according to WSP and rail authority officials. The rail authority also sent an internal email about the suspension to the agency’s staff.

The next day, the rail authority began an internal assessment of Hill’s actions as well. The FPPC has up to 28 days to decide whether to launch a formal investigation.

Dragados and its subsidiary Flatiron won the contract to build 65 miles of rail bed, viaducts and bridges in Kings County for a bid of $1.2 billion in December 2014. The work has encountered substantial delays since then, LA Times reports.

The change order was signed Dec. 20, 2017, by Hill, along with chief engineer Scott Jarvis and then-acting chief executive Thomas Fellenz, the newspaper reported. “It compensated the Dragados team for delays involving delivery of land, permits, utility relocations and other factors through Aug. 31, 2017. It left open the possibility of further delay claims from that point,” the LA Times article said.

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