Current Events: Skanska and Oops

Around here, people are now marking their calendars in bitter and vindictive anticipation. October 18th is when the Skanska barge case trial starts.

A brief recap for anyone who missed previous posts: When Hurricane Sally came through last year, the Three-Mile Bridge taking US 98 over Pensacola Bay was in the process of being replaced, and while it was operational with just a couple lanes, half of it was under construction. Barges, cranes, the works, all were involved. Skanska, the company who won the bid, had written into their contract that if a bad storm came near (defined as anything that’d produce more than 30 MPH winds) they’d pack up and get all the barges away from the bridge to a safe location. They did not, 20-odd barges broke loose and busted stuff up, the bridge was out of commission for most of a year, and communities on either side already hit by the Covid lockdowns got a double whammy that drove many businesses under permanently.

You can use your imagination to fill in the long, loooooong list of company personnel trying everything but folding themselves into Möbius strips to disclaim any responsibility. Especially financial. But it seems as if their days of dodging may have at least come to a middle.

Parts of the investigation have been made public, from the prosecution’s side. From documents the local station obtained, neatly highlighted, the people in charge of getting the barges moved “admitted it was preventable”.

On top of that, they’ve managed to nail down a timeline of what Skanska knew and when they knew it. To wit: The company knew the storm was on the way and would be of dangerous strength on Sep. 12. And yet as of Sep 13, not one of the barges had been moved.

I’m no legal expert, but I’m thinking their… butts are grass, and the prosecution has a very angry mower.

Frankly, were I Skanska’s defense attorney, I’d push like heck for a change of venue, based on the (possibly true) claim that my clients could not get a fair trial due to everybody who lives within at least 50 miles having a financial interest in the case.

This should be interesting to watch.


23 thoughts on “Current Events: Skanska and Oops

  1. Well. They are toasty. And if they manage to get off, everyone will know they paid some massive bribes, which is not a good look. Skanska may never be employed in the area again.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. So we have this, we have the families who helped Stan Lee (including his own brother) suing to get their copyrights back from Disney/Marvel, the audits in Arizona, and several other items going to court or into action at present. My, my, I think I need more popcorn….

    Liked by 4 people

    1. All the popcorn! I think there are a lot of people who have had enough of large organizations (corporations, the Feds, etc.) thinking they can just bend or break legal agreements with impunity because they have the power.

      Not enough angry people yet, though.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Gotta agree with both those assessments. There is cause for hope, though. It might be “only a fool’s hope,” to paraphrase Gandalf, but still…. Y’know, why not hope for the best?

        All the popcorn! Popcorn party! Bring your own soft drinks (or beverages of choice). Tinted glasses are optional!

        Liked by 3 people

  3. Look, I’m sure those Skansa managers had a long list of critical things to do once they heard about the hurricane.

    Like sleep in so they can be fully rested!

    And telling their stock brokers to short sell the industries that were about to be hit by barges!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Ooof, oh yeah, they’re gonna be toast. I’d imagine every single person that’s had to detour every day for over a year or knows anyone who was harder hit than others is sharpening a knife or two.

    Hope the company gets bled dry.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. We can hope. There’s at least one company that ought to get a good chunk whatever happens – he runs an oyster farm in the bay, and the barges went right through it. No way can they say they’re not responsible for that.

      (And then when he scraped together the funds to get started again, someone stole no less than $150,000 worth of oysters, equipment, etc. Argh.)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ugh, dang, that’s bad luck. Hope he gets enough to start over for real, plus more.

        And hope this paints the company red forever because, WOW. Been skimming articles between fixing human food and trying to get my sick dog to keep something down and I don’t see any mention of any deaths directly caused by this yet, but given the placement and scope of damage those barges caused that’s a miracle.

        This kind of negligence is never the first time they’ve done stupid/shady stuff like this, so goodness only knows what they’ve gotten away with in the past. Sounds like a company that needs to go.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. To list just one thing that happened during the cleanup?

        Landlady who runs an apartment building that houses a lot of elderly, disabled, and medically fragile people woke up one morning to find one of said stray barges rounded up and illegally moored right outside her window, when there was the possibility of yet another hurricane entering the Gulf in the next day.

        This was during some of the worst of the “we can’t offer rooms/shelter to people who MIGHT have Covid.” If that barge broke loose and damaged the building, many of her residents had nowhere to go.

        She called the company. Got the runaround, said they couldn’t do anything for a few days, be patient. Called the local news, who also got the runaround. Called the state senator, who called Skanska.

        Barge gone the next day. So much for “there’s nothing we can do”.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Yeah, I’m hesitant to publicly state anything about a company needing to be shut down.

        But some things really ought to be done ethically.

        Which means without negligence and without dishonesty.

        Engineering involves a lot of trade offs involving things that are risks, not certainties. Every risk has a certain cost to mitigate.

        Engineering can be an art, and it can be a craft. You use information and in various ways come up with a set of decisions, including the decisions about what to spend to mitigate known risks.

        Engineering can never know all of the risks. (As far as I can tell, it is a lot less cut and dried than people think it is.) Engineering techniques result in designs that always have flaws. I really enjoyed Hank Petrowski’s book on how bridge engineers discover flaws in their design techniques by increasing span lengths until the bridge design starts falling down.

        It can be very tempting for someone who wants to make money in engineering to pretend to do all the work, but ignore knowable risks, and ignore the costs of mitigating those risks. A risk is not a certainly, so you will only have that show up as a problem on your first project if you are unlucky. But with more projects, you are much more certain to have overlooked risks show up in a way that allows others to prove that you ignored things that you should not have ignored.

        So, yeah, something that shows up is probably a result of a wider pattern of misbehavior. And organizations are difficult to make change their behavior.

        Liked by 2 people

      4. Engineering involves a lot of trade offs involving things that are risks, not certainties. Every risk has a certain cost to mitigate.</i.


        The thing about this that REALLY pisses me off, is that the risk was big enough that it was mitigated via being a specific action required in the contract. That takes it from “risk” to “known”– “when X metric says Y will happen, you will do Z.”

        They agreed to that, AND THEN DIDN’T DO IT.

        :;rage button::

        Liked by 3 people

      5. This. Specifically.

        We may not get a hurricane hitting dead-on every year, but almost every year one does get close enough that it causes damaging winds, flash floods, etc. (Two so far this year!)

        It was a known hazard. It was specifically written into the contract – WEAR found and posted a copy! – that two days in advance of when such conditions were predicted to be likely, they would move all the barges to a sheltered bay upriver. Specifically to prevent their breaking free and… all the subsequent damage.

        Written. In. The contract. In the required “in case of tropical cyclone” plan that you have to have to build things for the state in Florida.

        The contract they bid several million dollars lower than anyone else to win.

        And then they tried to argue they didn’t move the barges because 1) it was too expensive, and 2) they didn’t have enough warning.

        …Nobody who lives on the Gulf Coast is impressed. Nobody.

        Liked by 3 people

      6. While there’s always tradeoffs and flaws, one of the first things engineers are taught by the good teachers (the old lines about “safe, cheap, useful” or “fast, cheap, good” followed by “choose two”), there’s still a lot that _is_ known of “this is definitely bad”. Which is when the Hymn to Breaking Strain applies:
        “The careful text-books measure
        (Let all who build beware!)
        The load, the shock, the pressure
        Material can bear.
        So, when the buckled girder
        Lets down the grinding span,
        ‘The blame of loss, or murder,
        Is laid upon the man.”

        Liked by 3 people

      7. Pretty sure there’s some kind of Law of the Sea stuff, too, about not taking care of your own darned barges and being negligent.

        Nice bunch of barges you have there. Shame if they got sold at public auction and you all lost your licenses, stuff like that.

        Liked by 1 person

      8. Oh, the prosecutors want way more than that. See, part of the contract was that there was supposed to be a useable bridge at all times. They weren’t allowed to demolish the old bridge until the new one was up and running. Half of it was, they took out the old bridge – and then Sally.


  5. Yeah, I’ve gone hard skeptic on the formal legal system.

    With the evidence and caveats mentioned elsewhere.

    So I’m not confident on outcomes, addressing things, etc.

    I’m certainly not a huge fan of Skanska, and would prefer that they are discouraged from doing such things.

    And will hopefully leave my political nutjobbery (and occasional sanity) at that for here, today.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Failure to deal with the barges as specified in the contract was not the result of engineering decisions, it was the result of business/management decisions.

    Although everything said above about engineering and risks and trade-offs and art is all true.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Tolerating bad management is also an engineering decision, if we have decided that it is proper to be very hard on engineers. And, I think this might be the kind of company that cannot operate without Civil PEs on staff, or at least without access to Civil PEs.

      Strictly and hypothetically speaking, some managers are laymen, and might possibly not be aware that they are instructing engineers to tolerate things that are wrong. I’m not persuaded. I take the view that if someone does not understand the moral weight of their actions, they aren’t competent for a position of responsibility.

      Crooked management can hire crooks with engineering credentials, and do a lot of damage before they are stopped, if they are stopped.

      I’m pretty unhappy about a lot of things right now. Including some stuff wrt to how well we stop apparent crooks with engineering credentials. I’ve decided that I maybe ought to hold my tongue on this point, and to avoid rash comments.

      Liked by 1 person

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