- A Florida Department of Transportation official admonished Skanska USA Civil Southeast and placed blame with the contractor for damage to the new Pensacola Bay Bridge that occurred during September 2020's Hurricane Sally, according to new court filings and other documents made public this month.
- The reprimand came just hours after barges used in construction of the span broke loose from their moorings and damaged not only the bridge but other nearby property. The bridge has been closed for repairs since the storm.
- In an email to Skanska sent the evening of Sept. 15, 2020, Ed Hudec, FDOT district construction engineer took the contractor to task because the bridge had already been struck twice by the errant barges and had to be closed. "As of this minute FDOT has received no assistance from the Skanska team to help determine the structural adequacy of the bridge," Hudec wrote. "The problem arose due to Skanska’s inability to properly secure barges or move them to a safe haven ... This is totally unacceptable!"
The documents show that as the storm approached Florida on Sept. 14, Skanska wrote the agency to let it know that it had already started making emergency preparations and that it would be requesting additional time and money for associated delays. Hurricane Sally made landfall in Alabama on Sept. 16, but the storm generated wind gusts in the Pensacola area as high as 92 mph as it made its approach.
But in a new court filing, attorneys for several businesses claiming that the bridge's closure has dealt them serious economic damages allege that Skanska did not follow procedures outlined in its own hurricane preparedness plan and, instead, continued to work on the bridge project despite warnings from the National Weather Service that tropical storm-force winds were on the way.
In that same filing, attorneys dispute Skanska’s claims that the barges used for construction are vessels under maritime law. Skanska has asked a federal court to declare the barges vessels, which would limit its liability for property and economic damages caused by the barges to the value of the barges themselves, which is less than $1.5 million. If the court agrees, that amount would be divided among those individuals and small businesses suing Skanska.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys in the economic damages lawsuits filed by local businesses, however, claim that the barges were used for construction only and that “their use was only fortuitously and incidentally connected to navigable waters and bore no relationship to traditional maritime activity.”
The FDOT, which has been issuing regular updates on the progress of bridge repairs since its closure, announced earlier this month that it will reopen the bridge in phases starting March 22, with a full reopening planned by May 31. The agency also said that it will fine Skanska $35,000 per day until the bridge is completely open.
"FDOT has now paid Skanska for a new bridge but due to poor management decisions on Skanska’s part, has a bridge with unknown structural deficiencies," Hudec wrote in his email.
Skanksa must still build a second span as part of the project, and that work is estimated to be completed by January 2022.