Friday, November 23, 2007

Durham Parking Deck Problems: Comments

On Wednesday I posted Durham Parking Deck Problems: Who Knew When?

The Durham Herald Sun had reported that City Manager Patrick Baker had failed to inform the public that “a city-owned West Chapel Hill Street parking deck was in danger of collapse despite learning about its structural weakness in late August. “

I took Baker to task for his failure but an anon commenter said I was just making myself “look petty.”

Ol’ JinC “petty?”

When I read that, I almost collapsed.

If anything, I thought I was being too easy on Baker.

I still want to know when he told Mayor Bell, what they said to each other and why the public wasn’t told about the danger before the recent election.

There were two other comments I want to call to your attention. They come from Insufficiently Sensitive who self-IDs as an engineer and has often commented on other topics, always in a very informed manner.

IS’s first comment:

As an engineer myself, I wonder at the advice that Baker got from the City's engineer.

Unless there's something missing from the story, the news Baker had from the engineer wasn't just casual.

"The engineers' initial warning, relayed to the city in June, said the weakened beams could shear without warning. A follow-up report in August said one or more beams could fail near their connection points with the decks' walls, causing "a localized floor collapse."

But between engineer and City, it seemed sufficient to keep some - not all - traffic off the upper floors. That doesn't seem to square up with the initial June warning, nor with the August report.

Is the engineer so confident in his ability to predict the behavior of an obviously damaged structure under load that she can just recommend that heavy vehicles go elsewhere, and it's free-for-all time for the small fry?

Not to natter on and on, I'd worry myself sick about such a recommendation - think major liability exposure to both City and Engineer in case of injury or damage following this knowledge. In fact an Errors and Omissions policy may have an exclusion of any coverage for such a judgment and recommendation.

But I don't have all the facts (it IS the H-S after all), and greater minds than mine no doubt rule the roosts at the City of Durham and its consultants. I still cringe while thinking of what's being said at their respective insurance agencies, though.

IS’s second comment:

Baker's casual approach to a public safety issue is at the opposite end of the spectrum from another example in the State of Washington.

The ferry Quinault was found in drydock to have pits (probably from saltwater corrosion) in its steel hull. The State Transportation Secretary removed it from service immediately, just in time for the Thanksgiving traffic.

For good measure, she did the same for three other ferries in Quinault's class, with no evidence reported of their hull condition.

By her standards, Baker should have shut down the whole parking garage, and without further inspections, all others of the same sort of construction.

Newspaper reports of public works problems, of course, are plagued by the sort of journalists who rarely understand the vulgar physical details of building or boat construction - so we have to take them with a grain of salt.

Folks, can we all agree those engineer reports should be made public as well as all communications City employees and officials had concerning them?

Does anyone think the public doesn’t have a right to know?

Is the Herald Sun going to take action on the public’s behalf to force the City to make those reports public?


Ralph Phelan said...

think major liability exposure to both City and Engineer in case of injury or damage following this knowledge

Does Durham still have insurance? If so, who are the poor fools covering them?

The whole city seems to be a mass of disasters waiting to happen.