Northwest Florida Roundup
A Bridge Too Far
A federal appeals court has upheld a lower court ruling that contractor Skanska was negligent in its response to Hurricane Sally in 2020 when more than two dozen of its barges in Pensacola Bay broke loose from their moorings, causing massive damage to the $400-million bridge it was building.
A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta unanimously ruled against Skanska’s request to overturn Pensacola U.S. District Judge Lacey Collier’s December 2021 decision that found Skanska could not shield itself under an obscure 19th century maritime law.
Had Collier’s ruling been overturned, the maritime law would have limited Skanska’s liability to the value of the barges themselves, or approximately $1.5 million.
As a result of the damage caused by the barges, the new bridge connecting Pensacola and Gulf Breeze was shut down to traffic for eight months while repairs were being made. Traffic that would normally have traveled three miles across Pensacola Bay had to be re-routed more than 40 miles north, causing massive traffic jams and widespread economic impact to the region, especially in the small city of Gulf Breeze and Pensacola Beach. Subsequently, more than 1,000 people and businesses filed damage claims against the Swedish-based company, one of the world’s largest contractors.
The appeals court ruling also paves the way for the damage claims to proceed to trial in state courts.
Sam Geisler, an attorney with Aylstock, Witkin, Kreis and Overholtz in Pensacola, says the first state court case could go to trial as soon as November.
Following the appeals court ruling, Skanska representatives declined to comment.
- The $15-million Barbara W. Nelson Fine Arts Center at Bay High School opened in August. The facility replaces public venues, such as the Civic Center and Martin Theater, that were destroyed by Hurricane Michael in 2018. The facility seats 700 people and was partially funded by a gift from the Nelson family.
- Illinois-based Peerless Development is proposing a sevenstory, 500,000-sq.-ft., large-scale student housing project dubbed HUB Tallahassee in the city’s Frenchtown district. The 3.83-acre project site consists of 11 different parcels owned by three different entities. Plans call for 391 units and more than 30,000 square feet of commercial and retail space.
- Pensacola Mayor D.C. Reeves has put on hold plans to acquire part of a 21-acre waterfront industrial site that is on the market. Reeves says after recent preliminary discussions with Escambia County officials he could not find a compelling reason to acquire the property. For the past several years the site has been used by bridge contractor Skanska as a staging site for construction of the $400-million Pensacola Bay Bridge. Reeves says there are “too many unknowns” to justify purchasing the site.
- Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare has begun construction of an urgent care center in Wakulla County. TMH says the 12,000-sq.-ft. center will address the growing demand for urgent care in a county with rising population growth.
- HCA Florida is constructing a $12-million, 11,000-sq.-ft. emergency department building in north Santa Rosa County. The facility will serve the Pea Ridge community.
- Delayed nearly three years after Hurricane Sally inflicted severe damage to the construction site, the new $75-million Fairfield Inn & Suite Pensacola Beach opened in July. The 11-story, 209-room beachfront hotel is owned by Gulf Breeze-based Innisfree Hotels.
- The City of Pensacola is moving ahead with major expansion plans at its municipal airport. The City Council recently approved $4 million to design the Pensacola International Airport’s passenger terminal expansion. To mitigate that cost, the city will pursue a $2-million Florida Department of Transportation matching grant. The project will add more passenger capacity to the airport’s terminal, including five new boarding gates and jetways. The airport’s passenger counts have grown to nearly 3 million annually.