As the federal case of Tampa Bay Water v. HDR Engineering entered its first day of witness testimony, the utility's general manager, Gerald Seeber, withstood combative questioning about drawdown rates and conspiratorial accusations surrounding Black & Veatch's theories about cracking at the six-year-old reservoir.
TBW attorney Richard Harrison's initial questioning provided the jury with background on the need for the project, and Seeber's own involvement, which started in 2008 when he first joined the utility as general manager. Seeber repeated numerous times that from his first interactions with HDR—nearly two years after cracking had first been discovered in two areas—the engineer was citing the theory of excess pore pressure as the leading probable cause of the problem. According to this theory, a design error has led to water being trapped behind the reservoir embankment's soil-cement layer upon drawdown, leading to excess pressure and cracking.
Seeber further stated that HDR never mentioned that latent construction defects—which the engineer is now contending is the problem—could be an issue.
Addressing one of HDR's main contentions that TBW has come up with a "grand plan" to pin the entire blame for the cracking upon a design error, thus enabling a large damage claim, Harrison asked, "Is there a grand plan to bilk money out of HDR?" HDR attorney Wayne Mason's objection to the question was quickly overruled and Seeber answered that there was no such plan.
In his cross-examination of Seeber, Mason introduced numerous documents showing that the engineer, as part of its investigation into the cracking, had offered the notion of construction problems as a possible cause of the cracking on several occasions. Mason noted that some of these items had been received previously by Seeber, despite his earlier testimony.
The issue of the nearly doubled drawdown rate being included as part of the "permanent fix" that a team of Kiewit Infrastructure Group is beginning to implement was Mason's next line of questioning, and drew the most combative exchanges of the day.
Mason hounded Seeber in an effort to get him to admit that after the $162.4-million repair and expansion project is completed, resulting in what he called a "turbo reservoir," the facility's drawdown rate will be nearly double the 66 MGD drawdown rate included in the original design, or about 120 MGD.
HDR contends TBW's desire for a higher drawdown rate is a main cause of the lawsuit. The engineer says that the original reservoir's embankment design doesn't accommodate a higher drawdown rate, and asserts that the utility is looking for a cause that will require a complete re-do of the reservoir embankment, allowing them to rebuild it to a higher drawdown rate.
Despite the sharp questioning, Seeber would only say that the new reservoir will have a drawdown rate that matches the 120-MGD capacity of the recently expanded surface treatment plant. He would not admit that 120 MGD was nearly double the 66 MGD rate.
The role and findings of Black & Veatch was a hot issue in afternoon questioning. HDR attorney Mason cited the utility's definition of Black & Veatch, its system engineer, as "an extension" of Tampa Bay Water to repeatedly refer to B&V as "your folks" to Seeber.
With that, Mason showed documents of Black & Veatch's that pointed to construction defects as a likely cause of the isolated cracking problem, and argued that B&V had never provided HDR with this information. Because Black & Veatch was an "extension" of the utility, he thereby contended that Tampa Bay Water was hiding these documents that pointed to another cause from HDR's investigation.
Upon his redirect of Seeber, though, Harrison ended the day by getting in some key material from Black & Veatch that Mason had managed to keep out earlier in the day.
Reading from meeting minutes from June 2009, Seeber stated that Black & Veatch had reported to the utility's board that an estimated 40% of the reservoir's embankment was impacted with cracking, significantly more than the roughly 6% HDR cites. Moreover, Seeber said that the Black & Veatch report to the TBW board indicated that pore pressure was the definite cause of the cracking, and that whatever solution was chosen, it should be applied to the entire embankment. The report to the board did not mention construction defects as a possible cause.