The start of the fifth week of Tampa Bay Water v. HDR Engineering marked the beginning of the end of the federal jury trial, as attorneys for the regional water utility commenced their closing arguments. Tampa Bay Water is suing HDR over significant cracking that occurred at its 15.5-billion-gallon, six-year-old C.W. Bill Young Regional Reservoir.
Though TBW attorney Richard Harrison had only limited time at the end of Monday afternoon to begin his closing arguments, and didn't yet get to his remarks detailing damages, the utility will most likely ask the jury to force HDR—the project's designer of record—to pay more than $90 million to repair the facility. The utility has claimed that the cause of the cracking is due to HDR's insufficient design, and that the reservoir's entire embankment needs replacement.
During the first portion of his closing arguments, TBW attorney Harrison frequently cited testimony of Dr. William F. Brumund, a principal with Golder Associates, Tampa, who authored a report prepared on behalf of Tampa Bay Water. The "Golder report"—as it's been referred to during the trial—was first published in 2010, and attempts to discern the reasons for cracking at the reservoir, including the possibility that excess pore pressure in the facility's embankment is the cause.
To test the pore pressure theory, Dr. Brumund tested soil taken from the reservoir for permeability. According to the report, tests showed that the soil wedge and the soil-cement that sits atop it were both less permeable than they should have been, and that this was evidence of excess pore pressure. Brumund testified that this was due to poor design work and modeling by HDR—a point mentioned repeatedly by Harrison during his early closing remarks.
To substantiate the Golder report further, Harrison reminded the jury of the earlier testimony of Dr. David Carrier, the geotechnical engineer who oversaw the project for the Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection. Specifically, Harrison reminded them of Carrier's testimony that water in the reservoir's soil wedge was draining more slowly than that of the reservoir pool—despite the fact that HDR design documents indicated that both should drain at the same rate. At one point, Carrier testified, the difference between the water level in the embankment and the pool was as much as 8 ft.
HDR is arguing that the cracking that occurred at the reservoir is due to improper construction in two specific areas. The engineer and its witnesses have stated that soil that was placed too thickly in one area didn't achieve proper compaction. As a result, the loose soil at the bottom of the embankment is compacting, or "collapsing," upon becoming wet, and causing voids to form. According to HDR's theory, these voids are then working their way to the surface and causing the cracks. This theory was testified to by Dr. Les Bromwell. Bromwell also stated that no repairs are needed, and that a program of monitoring and maintaining is all that's required.
The closing arguments of both sides are scheduled to conclude by Tuesday, April 10, with jury instructions to follow immediately. The jury is expected to issue a verdict regarding damages later in the week.