Port Manatee faces claim over Piney Point

Lawyers predict ‘multi-party dispute’ over summer dredging of Berth 12

chawes@bradenton.comOctober 25, 2011 

PALMETTO -- A multimillion-dollar claim by Great Lakes Dredge & Dock against Port Manatee is just the start of what could end up being a “complicated and multi-party dispute,” according to attorneys representing the port.

The anticipated legal complexities are all fallout from the dredging of Berth 12, which was completed in September but was delayed for about a month because of leaks in the lining of a slurry storage site and in pipelines that transported the slurry across Port Manatee property.

Great Lakes is seeking at least $2 million from the port because of the delays, said Kevin Hennessey, an attorney with Lewis, Longman & Walker, the firm that represents Port Manatee.

The port is also exploring which of the many parties involved in the dredging project are responsible for the delay, which occurred from June to July.

“The port is actively trying to identify the responsible parties,” Hennessy said. “We’re trying to quantify the extent of damages that Great Lakes might actually be entitled to contractually. We’re going to identify the source of responsibility for those delays, and pursue all available avenues against the appropriate parties.”

Another attorney with the firm, Hamilton “Chip” Rice Jr., told the authority at its meeting last week that the overall situation could become a “complicated and multi-party dispute” and that the best way to plan for possible legal complications was to “assume the worst.”

Among the other parties whose role in the Berth 12 dredging delay will be examined is HRK Holdings.

That’s the company that owns Piney Point, the old gypsum stacks used as a dispensing site for the slurry dredged from the Gulf of Mexico.

The stacks sprung liner leaks that caused the entire dredging project to be delayed.

Larry Bustle, chair of the authority that oversees Port Manatee, said companies involved in the pipelines that transported the slurry across Port Manatee’s property may also be examined for their responsibility.

“The thing that’s important to me is that we all seem to be very positively engaged,” Bustle said. “Everything’s on the table at this point. Our first step in the process is to mediate, get all parties around the table and find out what their arguments are.”

Bustle said a first sit-down between representatives of Great Lakes and the port took place Oct. 12, and a second was scheduled for Wednesday. But Hennessy said that gathering will likely be delayed because the port has yet to review new material from Great Lakes submitted to support their claims.

The Berth 12 dredging, which was planned for more than a decade, is a key part of Port Manatee’s long-term master plan because it enables the port to welcome larger ships with larger cargos.

Attorneys representing the port received permission from the authority last week to hire at least three expert witnesses.

Hennessy said they include a metallurgist to study the cause of pipe failure on the port’s property; a design engineer to evaluate the entire operation; and a financial expert to evaluate Great Lakes’ monetary claims.

Christine Hawes, Herald business writer, can be reached at (941) 745-7081.

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