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Power restored to riverfront residents

Collapse of South Liberty Street damaged transformer, power lines

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Power has been restored to more than a dozen downtown residents who were without electricity for more than three weeks after a portion of South Liberty Street collapsed into the St. Johns River.

The director of Public Works for the city said workers checked the townhomes Tuesday afternoon and the electricity was working properly in every unit. He said the cause of the collapse might never be known.

"It's possible we won't (know)," Public Works director Jim Robinson said. "But we are doing some things with the Department of Transportation this coming week and even the remainder of this week that might give some clues. But once we start demolishing, we are going to probably know exactly what happened."

A portion of Liberty Street from Bay Street to Coastline Drive remains closed, as does the parking lot behind the old Duval County Courthouse, and a row of riverfront townhomes remained without power until just after 1 p.m. Tuesday.

The location of the collapse on Liberty Street made things very difficult for city and JEA crews to run power into the area because it was so close to the river. There was another collapse in 2012 that had yet to be repaired on Liberty Street, so heavy equipment couldn't come in.

Duval County Emergency Management said it is working the homeowners association for the Riverwalk Townhomes at the Plaza to help move the owners and tenants back into their townhomes. They all had to be relocated while the power was out.

"All of these owners have now suffered out-of-pocket expenses," said Andrew Beaudoin of the townhomes' property management association. "And they have been keeping track of the different expenses that they have had. Some of them have been quite drastic, moving out for approximately 24 days now. Some haven't been as bad. We will be looking forward to working with the city's risk management to make sure that the folks are compensated appropriately."

Beaudoin estimated that the townhome residents might have collectively spent $70,000 to $80,000 relocating. And the city said it cost about $150,000 to restore power to the residents, but overall, it is actually under their budget for the emergency repairs.

On Friday, the city said the road and parking lot will remain closed for at least another month.

The focus will now be on rebuilding.

"The pace will slow down a bit at this point, compared to the power project," Robinson said. "But we are going to deliberately step-by-step work through that. So we are still some weeks away from having the information necessary to formulate our game plan forward."

Florida DOT officials who analyzed video shot under the structure said they still don't know why the road built on pilings over the river collapsed.

Divers did conduct some tests along standing sections of Coastline Drive and the Northbank Riverwalk last week to see just how safe the area is, but results of that inspection won't be back for about a month.

Robinson said the city is working closely with the DOT to figure out how long it will take to repair the roads and the parking lot. But they still have to find out what exactly is wrong. He said it could take quite some time, at least several months. And he said that project would be very expensive.

"The pace will slow down a bit at this point, compared to the power project," Robinson said. "But we are going to deliberately step-by-step work through that. So we are still some weeks away from having the information necessary to formulate our game plan forward."