The Tampa Bay Water employee who was the source of disputed photos of reservoir construction testified at the ongoing federal trial in Tampa that she "may have" witnessed improper soil placement of embankment material.

Amanda Rice, who served as project manager for the design phase of the Tampa Bay Regional Reservoir project—as it was termed then—and who later acted as a project administrator during construction, was the second TBW employee to testify. Rice was identified earlier in the trial as the source of construction photos sent to TBW's system engineer, Black & Veatch. The images seemed to show the possibility of soil placed to a greater thickness than the design specified in one of two areas now experiencing cracking. (Black & Veatch was conducting its own investigation of the cracking issue.)

HDR attorneys have suggested that density problems may be causing the cracking, and that normal density tests possibly missed the improper density.

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Tampa Bay Water's Amanda Rice sent the above photo to Black & Veatch employees, who were investigating the cause of cracks. HDR attorneys assert that the photo shows soil being placed at a higher thickness than specified. Photo courtesy HDR.

According to trial attorneys, the soil should have been placed at a thickness of between 2 ft and 3 ft. HDR argues the photos show it was closer to 5 ft or 6 ft, and that if the contractor had attempted to compact that much material, density at the lower level may not have met specifications. Despite their initial questioning, Black & Veatch apparently soon dropped this line of inquiry, however.

HDR attorneys cited Rice's photos because they were never submitted to the firm while it was still under contract to Tampa Bay Water and investigating the cause of cracking. It was only after the lawsuit moved forward that HDR discovered the images and related emails raising the issue of possible construction problems.

It was actually under redirect examination by Tampa Bay Water attorney David Forziano that Rice appeared to briefly admit to some possibility of improper soil placement. Forziano asked Rice if she had ever seen this soil placed at a depth of greater than 3 ft, or left in its final condition of greater than 3 ft.

"I may have," she said. Forziano quickly prodded, "You mean you can't recall." Rice then quickly re-stated, "I can't recall."

Earlier in the day, under cross examination by HDR attorney Kurt Meaders, Rice testified that despite her role as design-phase project manager, no one with Tampa Bay Water had ever indicated any plans to upgrade the reservoir to a pump-driven drainage system sometime in the future.

HDR is contending that the utility is magnifying the cracking issue into a design problem in an effort to rebuild the reservoir to a higher specification that includes the ability to draw down water at a faster rate than the design provided for the existing reservoir.

A design-build team led by Kiewit Infrastructure Group, Omaha, is moving forward on a $162.4-million contract to repair and expand the reservoir. The contract includes a complete rebuild of the existing facility's embankment.