City of Miami, contractor disagree on safety of partially collapsed crane

A disagreement between the city of Miami and a contractor over whether a construction crane that partially collapsed at a condo tower in Edgewater during Hurricane Irma has been properly secured means that a voluntary evacuation for residents of two neighboring buildings remains in place, at least for now.

The contractor, Plaza Construction, on Friday sent the city’s building official letters stating that the crane and its crumpled jib had been secured and that the Gran Paraiso tower that’s under construction was not structurally damaged by the collapse.

But Miami’s building official, Maurice Pons, concluded that Plaza’s documentation was unsatisfactory and recommended that the evacuation remain in place, city spokeswoman Diana Gonzalez said.

“Mr. Pons says he has not received an acceptable letter or written statement from Plaza Construction on the safety of the tower crane to the surrounding building. As a result, he suggests the voluntary evacuation remain in effect,” Gonzalez wrote in an email to the Miami Herald. “The statement letter he received was forwarded to an assistant city attorney who concurred.”

A Plaza Construction executive, Brad Meltzer, said his team is scheduled to meet Sunday with city officials to resolve the issue.

The Gran Paraiso crane, which appears to have come apart at the hinge where the upright piece and the swiveling jib are joined, was one of three that crumpled under Irma’s assault. A second crane at the Vice Miami apartment tower in downtown Miami also snapped during Hurricane Irma. A third crane, at a luxury condo tower under construction in Fort Lauderdale, also crumpled during Irma.

None of the crane structures fell to ground level, though heavy counterweights from the Gran Paraiso tower crashed to the street, embedding themselves into the asphalt.

The crane at Auberge Residences in Fort Lauderdale was secured. But the status of the tower at Vice Miami could not be determined Saturday night. Earlier in the week, the dangling crane meant that Miami Dade College could not use an adjacent classroom building at its Wolfson Campus, and Metromover, which had closed for Irma, could not reopen.

Irma’s sustained winds were classified as tropical-storm strength in Miami-Dade, with hurricane-strength gusts that topped off at 99 mph. The cranes are supposed to withstand winds of 145 mph.

Miami city officials asked residents of two buildings adjacent to the Gran Paraiso site to evacuate 36 hours after the hurricane, when Plaza had been unable to secure the crane. Police said the evacuation order was not mandatory but “highly encouraged.” Officers were assigned to keep watch over the building around the clock.

Plaza Construction told evacuated residents it would reimburse “reasonable” hotel stays, but some were angry that the contractor made no arrangements to help them move, noting that available hotel rooms were scarce after the storm. Others were upset that they had to spend their own money up front with no certainty they would be repaid.