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Builder of collapsed FIU pedestrian bridge had troubling construction failure at Port Everglades

Port Everglades’ now completed Slip 2 expansion project

By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org

Two months after last year’s fatal FIU pedestrian bridge collapse in Miami, the company that built the bridge was responsible for a troubling construction failure at Port Everglades.

Munilla Construction Management LLC, which operates as MCM, was hired by Broward County in 2016 as the prime contractor for the Slip 2 expansion project at the north end of the port. The $18-million project, completed in August 2017, saw low-bidder MCM extend the length of the slip about 250 feet to the west and deepen it 50 feet to accommodate larger cruise and cargo ships.

Last May 4, however, something unexpected happened.

“One of the new fenders that MCM installed along Berth 4 fell off the wall this morning and into the Slip,” a port representative told an MCM manager in an email obtained by Florida Bulldog.  “We have already fished it out, and brought it back over to the storage yard, and temporarily hung a tire in that vicinity…This is now causing the Port to be concerned about the other fenders that MCM installed.”

The downed fender fell when a tugboat “bumped” into it, according to a port source who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak.

Three fenders installed on the bulkhead in Slip 2 at Port Everglades

MCM, a family-run contractor based in Miami that in December quietly dropped the family name Munilla and changed its legal name to Magnum Construction Management LLC, installed about 16 fenders along the two berths in Slip 2 to act as heavy-duty bumper guards to protect both the seawall and the hulls of large ships from impacts and chafing.

Two principal deficiencies contributed to the failure, according to engineering reports and port emails reviewed by Florida Bulldog. The bolt holes that MCM workers drilled to anchor the fender to the wall were too large, nor were they were scored with a wire brush. The result: industrial-strength epoxy injected to help bond the fender to the wall did not properly adhere.

Fenders reinstalled

Tests soon determined that other fenders installed by MCM were problematic. Honoring its warranty, MCM agreed to remove and reset them all at no cost to the county.

The Slip 2 extension for ship berths 4 and 5 is among a number of projects included in the marine infrastructure program that’s part of the county’s 20-year, $1.6-billion port master plan approved in 2014.  It allows cruise ships as long as 1,100 feet to dock at Cruise Terminal 4 without sticking out into the Intracoastal Waterway.

The Slip 2 project was supposed to cost $13.57 million. But MCM cost overruns, including unexpected excavation approved by the county, brought the final payout to $18 million.

The Florida International University pedestrian bridge collapsed while under construction on March 15, 2018.

Slip 1, immediately to the south, is used for petroleum tankers. It is scheduled to be widened from 300 feet to 475 feet in a three-year construction project now set to begin in February 2021. The delayed project, estimated to cost $84 million two years ago, includes disposing of contaminated soil in the area.

MCM and FIGG Bridge Enterprises of Tallahassee were chosen in 2016 to design and build the pedestrian bridge above Southwest 8th Street between Sweetwater and Florida International University’s main campus.

The collapse of the 174-foot, 950-ton span while under construction occurred on March 15, 2018 – seven weeks before the Port Everglades fender failure. Six people died and eight others were injured when the bridge fell, crushing eight vehicles, including seven which were occupied.

The National Transportation Safety Board continues to investigate. In its second investigative update in November, however, it announced that it had found design errors that led to an overestimation of the capacity of a critical section of bridge and an apparent underestimation of the load on that section. Cracking observed before the collapse was consistent with the identified errors, the NTSB said in its two-page update.

In an accompanying press release, the NTSB described those findings as “preliminary,” adding that they “will be supplemented or corrected as the investigation progresses. As such, no conclusions about probable cause should be drawn from the information contained in the investigative update.”

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