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Contractor cleans up act after dumping Riverwalk concrete into Hillsborough River

TAMPA — The company building an $8.8 million section of the Riverwalk fired at least one worker and disciplined others after a video this week showed a crew dumping waste concrete into the Hillsborough River.

"That's shocking," city spokeswoman Ali Glisson said of the incident.

The contractor, Johnson Bros. Corp. of Lithia, has apologized, she said Thursday.

"What they appear to be doing — washing out their concrete bucket at the end of the day into the river — would definitely be in violation of their contract," she said. "It's beyond stupid. They should know better."

It is illegal, said Andy Schipfer, assistant director of waste management at the Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Commission, which sent two inspectors to the site Thursday.

"You can't wash your equipment into the river, and you definitely can't discharge liquid cement into the river," he said.

Matthew Von Dohre, 35, shot the video Tuesday afternoon. He said he saw a similar washout while on a walk at lunch Monday and thought, "that's not right." When he saw it again Tuesday, he used his phone to record the scene.

"I was amazed to see them do it, especially out in the open with everybody walking by and going to lunch," said Von Dohre, an architectural intern who works downtown. "To me, it's an ongoing project, and they're going to continue to do this until somebody says something."

"Reckless," said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

"On the stupid scale it's about a 12 out of 10," he said. "Clearly the worker was at fault, which is the responsibility of the contractor. … They are a reputable company that had an employee that did a stupid thing. I expect them to deal with it, and I expect them to pay whatever fines are involved, if there are any."

Johnson Bros. executives, including project manager John Meagher, did not respond to calls from the Tampa Bay Times seeking comment, but the company told City Hall about the employees who were disciplined or fired.

"They are apologetic, as they should be," Glisson said.

The city told Johnson Bros. not to bring concrete to the site until it made proper arrangements for washing out equipment. In turn, the company made plans to do the rest of its concrete washouts in its staging area on land, not on its barge in the river.

On Thursday, Johnson Bros. poured more concrete under the gaze of city and EPC inspectors. City officials said the washout afterward was done properly.

Buckhorn doesn't expect permanent environmental damage.

"That river is a survivor," he said. "People for decades dumped a lot worse than that, and it's very resilient. It will be fine, but I darn sure don't want to see a contractor that's working for us engaging in that behavior ever again."

In addition to contacting the county EPC, the city planned to notify the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Port Tampa Bay.

The discharge could violate county, state or federal laws regarding waste disposal and turbidity, or cloudiness, in the river, Schipfer said.

But he said it's too soon so say whether there will be a fine. That is likely to depend on factors like whether the discharge was intentional and how many times it had taken place.

Johnson Bros. did turbidity tests late Wednesday, more than 24 hours after the incident. It found the amount of particulates in the water to be in the normal range and consistent with samples taken earlier, which Glisson said was "great news."

The $8.8 million job originally was to be complete around Thanksgiving, but recently officials said it's likely to take until late December or January. It's too soon to say whether this incident could affect the schedule, Glisson said.

Johnson Bros. is creating an over-the-water promenade going north from MacDill Park, under the Kennedy Boulevard Bridge to Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.

The 1,460-foot-long section is a challenge to build because the Sheraton Tampa Riverwalk Hotel and neighboring properties are built out to the seawall. That means the Riverwalk must be built on concrete pilings sunk into the bed of the river.

Johnson Bros., which also built a section of the Riverwalk under the Brorein Street Bridge, submitted the lowest of six bids for the contract. A federal grant is paying for the work.

When the section is finished, the city will have an unbroken 1.8-mile waterfront trail from the Channel District, around the Tampa Convention Center and north to the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts.

After that, the city will build one more section from the Straz north to Water Works Park.

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Richard Danielson at rdanielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times

Contractor cleans up act after dumping Riverwalk concrete into Hillsborough River 08/14/14 [Last modified: Thursday, August 14, 2014 10:23pm]
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