Pensacola Bridge Update: I Am Bemused

First, the facts as we know them.

On September 16, 2020 Skanska USA Civil Southeast Inc., failed to secure no less than 22 out of 55 barges at and around the 3-Mile Bridge job site in Pensacola Bay ahead of Hurricane Sally. The loose barges washed all over the bay; twelve onto private property (including yards, roads, and one golf course), while three were still lodged under the bridge. At least seven bridge spans are damaged, repair timeline unknown but it’ll be more than two months. Among other damage done, a local oyster farm that was properly secured was run down by at least one barge, causing losses of 800,000 oysters. The grower’s looking at over $500,000 in damages and over a year before he’ll have oysters ready for sale again. Local oysters in restaurants were a major tourist draw, so this affects much more than just his business.

Even just counting the bridge… it’s a crucial traffic artery. Over 55,000 vehicles use the 3-Mile Bridge daily to commute to jobs, homes, and businesses. In a tourist area that’s already been hit hard by coronavirus restrictions, this may be straw, camel for a lot of people.

Many, many people have tried to get some answers about why this happened and what to do about the friggin’ barge in their front yard. Skanska’s not talking.

IMHO, they didn’t stop talking soon enough.

As I mentioned in a previous post, a company representative is already on record with the local news as saying they’d secured things for 30 MPH winds, and “would have needed 4 to 5 days to prepare” for Sally. That might actually fly with a judge that has been living under a rock and doesn’t realize that once a hurricane hits the tip of Florida (as Sally did that Friday, 5 days in advance) it can go anywhere in the Gulf.


Hurricanes are not the only weather patterns here that get past 30 MPH.

If you know Texas and the Great Plains you likely know about blue northers. They don’t just stop at the Texas border. Granted, by the time they crash down the Gulf Coast they usually only drop the temperature 10 to 15 F instead of 20+, but they come – and they drag a heck of a lot of bad weather with them.

60+ MPH wind gusts out of thunderstorm lines are normal around here. We’re not even talking the microbursts that can be mistaken for mini-tornadoes. Winds past – very very far past – 30 MPH are common, whenever we get a cold front through. And you can’t predict when those will hit with more than… oh, about three days’ warning, reliably.

Meaning whoever that rep was admitted on camera and live interview that they were not prepared for the area’s normal severe weather conditions.

Oh yeah. The lawyers are going to have a field day.


25 thoughts on “Pensacola Bridge Update: I Am Bemused

  1. So were those specific barges secured differently (and insufficiently) by their crews or was it a case of all the barges being badly secured, but only 22 were positioned to be set adrift by the storm?

    22 seems like a lot for individual screw-ups, but not enough for some overall “we forgot to buy anchors” policy.

    Just the numbers makes me think they had precautions, but not enough for all the barges, or not good enough to ensure success.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. a) There are probably degrees of ‘doing it correctly’. Consider a 3, a 5, and a 7 on a 0 to 10 scale. Three might give 95% chance of problems in condition X, five 55%, and seven 15%. If you get some number of trials (barges) in condition X, your number of serious failures is probably not going to be the number of trials times the fractional chance.

      b) These people seem to be thinking in terms of much milder conditions than actually occurred. I’m not sure if they lack experience in the gulf, are none too observant, or are in the habit of doing business by underestimating risks, and paying for a lower level of precaution against risks.

      c) The % problems in conditions X is a guess that actuaries and engineers make from assumptions and information. The uncertainty is partly based on information that they do not have, and cannot account for. A boat is obviously in contact with two fluids, and the movements of those fluids will not be identical for every location. Simply having different locations and orientations will cause different outcomes for boats anchored by the same means. When you consider the information that don’t have about ocean floors not all being the same and that no engineer or actuary can use a weather forecast to predict exact motions…

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Yowza.

    I may not be American, but as your courts are legendary across the pond for holding companies liable for the most ridiculous things… could it possibly be that Skanska may be held liable for loss of profit for the entire region?
    I mean, oysters, tourists, restaurants, hotels, rental car companies, sightseeing places… oops?

    (On ridiculous lawsuits: Coffee is usually hot. Which one can feel without touching the cup, which is why itโ€™s generally considered a stupid idea to drive, walk or run around with a lidless one. …yes, somebody did get burned. And sued successfully. Argh.)

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Oh, that lawsuit! I see it come up a lot. And there are ridiculous things that people have been sued for, but the coffee lawsuit being a commonly referenced one is ironic because it wasn’t actually ridiculous:

      Basically, the car wasn’t even moving, the coffee was at temperatures that give 3rd degree burns in less than ten seconds, and the person had to undergo several surgeries (including *skin grafts*), and 2 years of medical treatment. Because McDonalds (knowingly, they’d had this come up legally before) was selling coffee at unsafe temperatures so they could keep it for longer and reduce costs of throwing out cold coffee.

      I would not call that a frivolous lawsuit.

      Liked by 7 people

    2. Depends.

      For civil damages, only people who file get them. And only some of the impacted will have the resources and inclination to go through the whole process. There is a thing called a class action suit, where people can pool their resources for a lawsuit, and share the payout. Typically for those, a law firm who becomes interested in the case will put some of the work together, then start contacting injured parties, with the hope of profiting from the law firm’s share of the damages.

      I have no idea what tests are applied for injured parties to get use of a class action filing, and whether those would apply here.

      Good chance for some but not all. You would have to convince the court that you have been injured, and that is probably really annoying if you are trying to bundle different mechanisms of injury.

      Note, I am not a lawyer. In the US, there is only one kind of professional legal license, we don’t have separate barristers and solicitors. I, personally, might be described as an anti-lawyer. ๐Ÿ˜€

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Class action suit has been filed, yes. I have no idea what kinds of injury will be covered as “reasonable to take to court”, but I suspect things like having a barge slapped up against your house foundation will count.

        Aggravation and loss of business from the bridge being out will be trickier, but when you can take footage right off the local news of wall-to-wall traffic jams from people having to go an hour out of their way to use the other bridge… I suspect some of that will make it in too.

        Liked by 3 people

    3. Properly look up the coffee one after not eating for a bit as the pictures are graphic. Do you want to have coffee hot enough to that your labia ends up fused from the burns?

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Coffee is bean-grinds in boiling water or steam. Boiling water, when poured on delicate body parts, burns them, especially if it is held there by fabric.

        That is why sensible people do not cradle boiling hot containers next to delicate body parts, and if they are opening containers of recently boiling water without a place to set them safely, they step out of the parked vehicle and use the hood as a safe place to open it, or if the cup is giving the 70+ year old woman problems she hands it to her grandson sitting next to her and has him open it. If he has the sense to be trusted driving, he should then step out and open the cup.

        Because hot stuff will burn you.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. About “the kind of detail that never made it into the news reports”, I should point out that there were actually several _different_ but similar events that happened around the same time, and neither the news nor the people choosing sides were being honest enough to admit that there were separate events or which facts applied to which event.

        There was cases like what Rosethorn mentions, but there was also at least one more local to where I live that was on the opposite side of the spectrum (both an idiot not being careful _and_ the coffee wasn’t as hot as claimed and didn’t do more than redden the skin, to the point where the idiot got in trouble for calling emergency services frivolously as part of his attempt to cash in on the actually bad case’s coattails).

        So, while I’m not arguing that “the bad cases didn’t happen”, I am pointing out that it’s hard to research it when there were multiple separate (and different) cases all conflated together.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Further, with the coffee, there’d been other complaints about the heat before. Basically a lot of the “LOL really?!” litigation there’s usually a spin. Like the woman who had to sue her nephew over a (sprained or broken) wrist in order to get her insurance to cover the medical bills the way they’re supposed to. (From what I understand the lawsuit was dismissed once insurance coughed up the coverage they’re paid to provide.)

        Liked by 4 people

  3. Several months back, I read a claim that many lawyers in this generation are incompetent, relying on personal connections to graduate and navigate the legal system, rather than doing the research into law and local business practice standards.

    I don’t know how widespread that is, but it sounds like Skanska’s lawyer fits that description to a T.


    Liked by 3 people

    1. Bunch of interesting things possibly going on.

      a) Per capita lawyer rate has apparently increased by something like three times over the past six decades or so. Which makes a certain amount of sense. Whites are 70%, male half of whites would be 35%, training the same fraction from the whole population as from the white male population would be three times.

      Issues: There probably would have been a faster rate of accepting new students than there would have been in training/developing law professors. An industrial engineer might expect that this could result in a decrease of quality, no matter how impolitic it would be to say so. Increasing number of engineers could improve the economy, potentially, and increasing number of doctors could likewise be significantly good. It is not clear that what lawyers do scales in the same way. If this increase is true, it is not impossible that it corresponds to a decline in the quality of legal training, or to an increase in developing business in dubiously ethical ways.

      Forex, Judges and Lawyers often have law degrees, and politicians are not rarely also lawyers. Judges and politicians can potentially alter the legal system to change the amount of work available to lawyers.

      b) Law is downstream of politics, which is downstream of culture, which is downstream of religion. Socialisms and communisms have features that may result in them being properly classified as religions.

      Rule of law is basically a cultural consensus on a method of resolving the ordinary disputes always occur within a society. (I understand this willingness to accept what a court concludes as being a subset of how I understand a consensus peace agreement.) A society deeply divided about such issues as the value of human life, or what qualifies as human, is likely to have problems consistently deciding disputes that hinge upon such issues, and problems getting widespread acceptance of such decisions.

      In such an environment, training lawyers in methods that are narrowly tailored to a specific set of assumptions is likely to hurt marketability. Throw stuff at the wall, and see what sticks, is the most broadly applicable process for a professional. But where that works, there is less motivation for narrow but real competence, and more to rely on connections.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Dayton, Ohio has winds that are routinely higher than 30 mph. I mean, come on. You have to tie up rowboats and sailboats better than that, when they’re sitting at a dock in a weeny little pond or lake. You live by the ocean.

        I suspect Skanska had gotten rid of most of their legit employees (who would have tied up barges better than that, just for the night, much less night with a hurricane), and was employing a bunch of cheap stoners without qualifications.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. The feel for the oyster farmers, market really do. There was a problem of a similar nature up here when some careless and idiot decided to dump the junked boat he was towing in the local (near pristine) not-quite-a-harbor. Which housed the local (very popular) mussel farm. The junked boat then started to leak oil or fuel (or both).
    Cue the local city, the mussel grower and many surrounding zip codes screaming their heads off. Iโ€™m actually surprised that no one tried to sneak out in the night with many friends and all their boats to tow the sucker, legal or not!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. There’s oil and fuel from the barges in the bay, too. I just don’t know more details on how bad that is. But yes. People are furious. People fish in this bay. Commercially and for home consumption; there are more than a few working poor who count on fishing as combined recreation and food on the table. Argh.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. There’s another disaster in the making lurking of the US East and Gulf Coasts in particular. Well, the whole world really, but certainly the English Channel, North Sea, and Baltic. I’m talking about WWII sunken shipwrecks. A lot of those still have tanks and containers filled with oil, and other substances, just waiting to spill out once the they’re corroded enough. Some countries are proactively checking wrecks, and trying to drain them where they can but some wrecks are already in such poor condition, they might fall apart at any time…

    Liked by 2 people

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