FDOT: Federal gov't should pay for Mathews Bridge repairs

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Florida Department of Transportation has filed a claim with the federal government, including the Navy, and with contractors trying to force them to pay more than $4 million for the repairs to the Mathews Bridge after it was hit by a ship being towed last year.

Engineers said the crash in September nearly caused the bridge to collapse and resulted in millions of dollars worth of damage.

The impact sheared off several bolts and dislodged a support beam. The bridge was closed for a month.

Because the ship that hit the bridge is a Navy ship that carries supplies, it's part of the Military Sealift Command, and DOT said the Navy had the height of it wrong, off by more than 5 feet.

DOCUMENT: FDOT claim that Navy should pay for repairs

The Navy said the government has the height of the bridge wrong, off by several feet, and it claims that contributed to the crash.

DOT still is not done paying for the repairs to the bridge. The accident involving the USNS Harry L. Martin struck the center span on Sept. 26, causing major damage.

So far, DOT said the bill is running at $4.1 million. The department filed a claim with the Navy and its subcontractor trying to collect the money.

DOT points to evidence that shows the Martin was at least 5 feet 7 inches taller than it was actually listed in documents and said that is the fault of the Navy.

Attorney Rod Sullivan, who specializes in maritime law, said the state is not wrong in making its claim about the height.

"The docking pilot has to rely on information provided by the U.S. Navy, and the contractor on the height of the ship," Sullivan said. "And if the docking master did not get the correct height from the Navy, there is no way for him to measure that height and has to rely on the data he is given."

The state also said there is a problem with the height of the bridge. The claim said there is an error as to the vertical clearance of the Mathews Bridge, how much space a ship has between the water and the bridge.

The state contends all of that had to do with the crash and that is why the federal government and the tug boat operators should pay the cost of repairs. The claim said the goal of the state is to collect the taxpayers' money that as been spent as a result of the allison, a maritime term referring to a ship collision.

Though the measurement of the ship is in question, Sullivan said he doesn't think that would cause other crashes or problems.

"It's not common. It is kind of endemic to this kind of ship," he said. "Because this ship has a ramp on the back, and I am sure with the ramp down, the height was correct, and with the ramp up, the ship becomes higher 6 feet or so."

A mediation settlement conference is scheduled to take place in August.

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