Tampa Bay Water to sue reservoir contractors

10/20/08 Seán Kinane
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The Tampa Bay Water Board of Directors voted today to initiate a lawsuit against the companies that designed, constructed and provided quality control over the construction of the state’s largest reservoir.

Cracks in the soil cement of the C.W. Bill Young Regional Reservoir in southeastern Hillsborough County were first discovered almost two years ago. The reservoir opened in 2005, but since then, cracks more than 1-inch wide have occurred in two areas of the reservoir embankment, a total length of about 1,900 feet.

Tampa Bay Water’s General Counsel Richard Lotspeich discussed the problem.

“The ongoing analysis of the cracking of the soil cement at the reservoir indicates that the cracking mechanism is related to the reservoir’s design, construction, construction management, or some combination of those. In order to protect Tampa Bay Water’s rights and remedies, any legal action against the responsible parties must be initiated within two years of the discovery of the problem. The cracking at issue here was first discovered by Tampa Bay Water on December 20, 2006.”

HDR Engineering designed the reservoir; it was constructed by Barnard Construction Co.; and construction quality assurance was overseen by Construction Dynamics Group. All three companies will be targets of the litigation. Lotspeich said the resolution passed unanimously by the Board has three components.

“The first is to authorize general counsel to initiate litigation against those responsible for the design, construction and construction oversight of the reservoir. The second is to authorize the General Manager to terminate the current contracts with HDR. And finally, authorization for the General Manager to reassign the HDR contract tasks to other firms.”

Current contracts with HDR will be terminated because Tampa Bay Water practice is to not have ongoing contracts with companies that are involved in litigation with the agency. Before the vote, several Board members were concerned about the costs of taking litigation to trial, but Lotspeich reassured them that other options would still be in play.

“There are a couple of opportunities that we have, strategy-wise, to basically forego the actual trial. A totaling agreement would be one. A totaling agreement would basically allow us to delay the filing of a complaint. I would not advise at this point for that strategy. The alternate strategy is to file the complaint and then reach agreement with the defendants to file a joint motion to abate the proceeding while we enter into discussions to find a solution to the problem. That would be my recommendation.”

Tampa Bay Water Board member Ann Hildebrand, who is also a Pasco County Commissioner, said “that’s a little more comforting.” Pinellas County Commissioner and Tampa Bay Water Board Chair Susan Latvala agreed.

I know all of us; it’s one of the worst things that we have to do as elected officials is spending taxpayer dollars on lawsuits. We want this resolved efficiently, effectively, and immediately, and yeah economically. And however we can do that. And as long as the parties are willing, it just always makes sense to sit down together and work through the issues. Find out what the problem is and who’s responsible and move forward with fixing it.”

Tampa City Council member Charlie Miranda is on the Board of Tampa Bay Water and didn’t shy away from the possibility of a lawsuit against those responsible for problems with the reservoir.

“I certainly agree with our attorney on what was said. However, I’m not afraid of a lawsuit. What I want to make sure at the end of the day, whenever this day comes, is that the public, who has been the ratepayer and the taxpayer at the same time, are protected, that any future cost and the repairs of the reservoir are not borne by them. I’ve stated this back in August when I was interviewed by certainly [sic] station, and I think it’s paramount that we protect the public interest that when we do something we want to do it right.”

The Board unanimously approved the resolution to initiate litigation. Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe, vice chair of the Tampa Bay Water Board, was absent.

Tampa Bay Water will hold a closed session in December to discuss details and options regarding the litigation. The next Tampa Bay Water Board meeting will be Dec. 15 at 9 a.m. in the Clearwater headquarters at 2575 Enterprise Road.

Tampa Bay Water

resolution to initiate reservoir litigation

Previous WMNF coverage of reservoir issue

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