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Did TVA money influence report?

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Trial winding down this week

By Damon Lawrence

Did the truth motivate Bill Walton — or was it TVA greenbacks that persuaded his conclusions?

Walton, an AECOM official who conducted the root-cause analysis into the TVA ash spill, insisted it was the former.

“My job was to give you the why of this failure,” he said during cross-examination at the ash spill trial on Tuesday. “I believe I delivered on doing a thorough investigation.”

However, plaintiffs’ attorney Gary Davis pointed out that Walton has done more than $5 million worth of work for TVA since January 2009.

“I would say that’s the value of the contracts,” Walton confirmed.

“And there’s a promise of much more, correct?” Davis asked.

“I continue to do work for the TVA,” Walton responded. 

Walton was called as an expert witness by TVA. He used a lot of technical jargon during his testimony and often sought to explain things with long-winded answers.

That seemed to irritate Davis.

“Are you through?” he asked after one of Walton’s lengthy explanations.

The AECOM root-cause analysis Walton conducted in 2009 concluded a slime layer contributed to the disaster that occurred at TVA’s Kingston Fossil Plant on Dec. 22, 2008.

“We had no preconceived notion that we had arrived at a slime,” he testified.

The plaintiffs contend Walton’s finding was convenient for TVA because it purported a cause for the disaster without placing blame on the agency. 

And according to evidence put forth on Tuesday, slime was already on Walton’s radar before he was awarded the work.

Davis pointed out the word was in the proposal he submitted to TVA in January 2009.

To emphasize that point, Davis showed an excerpt of Walton’s pretrial deposition. In it Walton was asked, “Where did the word ‘slimes’ come from?”

He answered, “Came from our proposal.”

Walton and TVA Chief Operating Officer Bill McCollum answered questions about the root-cause analysis during a press conference on June 25, 2009.

The TVA Office of the Inspector General accused both of engaging in “artful dodges” to ensure no culpability was placed on TVA. Walton denied that was the case.  

“My intent was to tell you the technical cause of failure,” Walton said. “I was certainly not handcuffed in telling the story.”

Testimony has revealed a lot of preparation going on behind the scenes at TVA before the report was made public.

“There was even a draft communication action plan?” Davis asked.

“I believe I saw one,” Walton said.

The trial, which started on Sept. 15, is expected to wrap up this week. Attorneys were set to give closing arguments Wednesday morning.  

“I’m hopeful based on what I’ve heard that we will conclude tomorrow, if not today,” U.S. District Judge Thomas Varlan said Tuesday.