Undaunted after rejecting a $30 million settlement offer, then losing a $100 million lawsuit, Tampa Bay Water is apparently ready to take another swing at the engineer that designed its severely cracked 15.5 billion-gallon reservoir.
A Florida jury handed the water utility a stunning defeat in April in its long-running effort to blame Nebraska-based HDR Engineering Inc. for the cracks that erupted in the C.W. Bill Young Reservoir a year after it began operating in 2005.
Photos: Tampa Bay Water
|Tampa Bay Water injected grout into the larger cracks—116 dump-truck loads in one; 12 loads in the other—as a temporary fix. The grout repair program is ongoing.|
Some cracks in the soil-cement embankment lining were up to 400 feet long and up to 15½ inches deep. The utility says the cracks affect 70 percent of the embankment; HDR says the affected area was about 6 percent.
Suit, Settlement, Trial
The utility filed the federal-court suit in 2008 against reservoir designer HDR, contractor Barnard Construction, and construction manager CDG, seeking more than $100 million to repair the structure. The utility later settled with CDG for $6 million and Barnard for $750,000.
The month-long trial against HDR went forward after TBW’s board rejected a $30 million settlement offer that it had previously accepted.
|The federal-court jury sided with HDR, which contended that inadequate soil compaction—not poor design—in the reservoir embankment led to the voids that eventually caused cracking.|
The jury, however, deliberated less than four hours before finding that the design of the $146 million reservoir—the largest in the state—did not violate standards.
HDR says that the water company has overplayed and repaired the cracks and actually wants HDR to subsidize an upgrade for the reservoir. (Kiewit Infrastructure South was hired for $156 million last year to repair the reservoir and boost its capacity by 3 billion gallons.)
HDR went on the offensive in December with an extensive website devoted to the litigation.
‘Public Shouldn’t Pay Twice’
Verdict or no, the water company apparently remains determined to make HDR pay.
“Saying we are disappointed is an understatement,” Tampa Bay Water General Manager Gerald J. Seeber said after the verdict was announced.
|The 15.5 billion-gallon reservoir began cracking in 2006, the year after it came on line.|
“We feel strongly that the public shouldn’t have to pay twice for a fully functioning reservoir. We hired HDR to design the facility. HDR certified its design and the construction to the state, so we believe HDR is liable. We’ll discuss the verdict with our Board and consider our legal options, including a possible appeal.”
Now, the Tampa Bay Times is reporting that TBW will seek a new trial in the case. Board member Neil Brickfield moved unsuccessfully to fire the lawyer who had represented the board after learning “we didn’t hire a jury consultant and the other side did,” the newspaper said.
TBW attorney Richard Harrison, however, told the newspaper that the grounds for a new trial were likely to involve a series of rulings by the trial judge “that limited or blocked Tampa Bay Water from presenting much rebuttal to HDR’s case.”
For instance, Harrison told the paper, the judge did not allow witnesses “to testify about HDR’s role in inspecting the reservoir’s construction or to show photos of how the cracking continued this month.”