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Bridge Collapse Remains Mystery 3 Years Later

Thursday, March 11, 2021

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Although nearly three years have passed since the collapse of a bridge in Port Bruce, Ontario, the reasoning behind the structure’s failure remains a mystery.

Why? Well, the official report is caught between two ongoing legal battles involving a mixture of governments and private companies over who is really to blame for the collapse.

What Happened

On Feb. 23, 2018, a bridge on Imperial Road in Port Bruce collapsed while a dump truck loaded with gravel was traveling across and plummeted into a flooded creek below. Other possible factors were pointed to recent heavy rains and flooding, which sent water crashing into the base of the span.

The driver, Scott Barber, was unharmed and rescued by emergency officials shortly after the incident. However, Barber’s truck was unable to be removed from the collapsed structure until a month later and was reported to have leaked fuel into the creek.

Court filings hint at "structural defects."

Posted by CBC London on Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Following the collapse, CBC News requested the official report on the collapse under a freedom of information request but was denied by Elgin County officials as the documents were considered evidence in two ongoing lawsuits.

Lawsuits

Recently, case filings from both lawsuits were acquired by the news station, however, the documents fail to provide proof of collapse theories.

In one lawsuit, owner of the 1999 Western Star dump truck, Ron Jones Construction, is suing the county for $350,000, in addition to legal costs, loss of business, and for environmental cleanup. The company filed a statement claim in a London court in 2019, arguing that the county is responsible for the collapse in citing negligence and that the bridge was improperly designed using improper rods in its construction.

While Ron Jones makes these allegations, in addition to improper safety and durability assessments made by the county, the truth has yet to be proven in court.

When asked to comment, county CAO Julie Gonyou said, “It is not our practice to comment on matters before the court.” Jacob Ginger, a spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, also declined to comment.

In a separate case, Elgin County is suing the Ontario government for $10 million for commissioning the design and construction of the bridge in 1964, although, maintenance responsibilities were transferred to the county in March 1997. The county denies these allegations in a statement, arguing that the collapse “was not reasonably foreseeable,” noting that the bridge inspected regularly by qualified employees.

The county is also suing the government and three engineering firms for demolishing costs and for the cost of a temporary bridge replacement. In its case, the county further alleges that the province was negligent in the design and the construction of the bridge while the engineering firms all failed to properly inspect the structure or consider its age and a-typical design.

In a 2018 statement, Elgin County lawyers blame the collapse on “structural defects” which are further described as having been “the result of corrosion and fatigue damage to the anchor rods within the bridge's structure and the collapse occurred as a result of the anchor rods' failure.”

“Elgin County states that the structural defects that led to the collapse of the bridge were latent defects which were not known, and could not reasonably be known by Elgin County prior to the collapse,” the statement continues.

The lawsuit further points out that visual inspections of the anchor rods was impossible, and that the province failed to inform the county about the structure’s design flaw when ownership of the bridge was transferred.

Countering this statement, two of the engineering firms claim that the structure’s design “is inherently flawed and should be reviewed as material deterioration is not inherently visible.”

Andrew Graham, a partner with Harrison-Pensa, who is representing Ron Jones Construction in one of the lawsuits, told CBC News that the firm has examinations for discovery booked for this year, but believes that a report for what actually happened could be protected by the courts for years.

“Certainly, we will be asking for any reports that have been prepared,” said Graham.

While the incident has been compared to the design of the Imperial Road bridge to that of the Laval de la Concorde Bridge in Quebec, which suddenly collapsed in 2006, an official report on the structure’s collapse has yet to be released to the public.

Replacement Structure

Six months after the collapse, a temporary bridge was installed over Catfish Creek.

However, it wouldn’t be until February of last year that construction would begin on a replacement structure. For the project, the province committed $1.67 million, with the federal government supplying $2.5 million for a total cost of just over $5 million.

A little under a year later, the bridge opened to the public in December 2020.

“This is fantastic,” said David Marr, a former Elgin County warden, at the time. “It's been almost three years and I can still remember getting the phone call from the CAO saying that the bridge had collapsed and I was in total shock at that time.”

   

Tagged categories: Bridges; Bridges; Design build; Health & Safety; Laws and litigation; NA; North America; Project Management; Quality Control; Safety

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