County attorney's office seeking $2.66 million Lake Manatee settlement

MANATEE -- Manatee County officials are proposing a legal settlement agreement of $2.66 million that would be paid by a company they claim performed negligently on a project at the Lake Manatee dam.

In 2009, the county hired the company, URS Corporation Southern, Inc., to design a "cofferdam" at Lake Manatee, a reservoir in east Manatee that supplies water to the county utility system, according to county documents.

The "cofferdam" was meant to hold back water temporarily while repairs were made on a gate and the surrounding area, said a discussion included in the agenda for the county commission's Tuesday meeting.

Work started in December 2010, and the project was completed in February 2011.

"After the cofferdam was built ... it began to leak almost immediately," county documents said.

"By mid-March 2011, it was apparent that there was no safe way to complete the cofferdam as designed by URS, and the contractor was accordingly notified to begin the process of removing the cofferdam," the county's complaint said.

The county was unable to finish its repairs, and ultimately, the contractor removed most of the cofferdam, the complaint said.

Manatee County officials filed suit alleging negligence, seeking approximately $3.4 million in damages.

URS denied in court papers that any professional negligence occurred. It alleged that the county "failed

to mitigate or exacerbat-ed its damages by un-necessarily removing the entirety of the cofferdam components."

Its attorney also wrote that "some or all of the issues complained of by the County are the fault of non-parties," such as the contractor.

A mediation session resulted in an impasse.

The county commission will decide whether to approve the settlement agreement.

Chief Deputy County Attorney Jim Minix explained Friday that the settlement proposal is a way "to get an official settlement offer out, which if they accept, will end the litigation."

"We're not expectingthem to accept, but webelieve it would be a fair proposal if they did," Minix said.

If the company declines the settlement offer, but the county wins in court, under certain circumstances, the company would also have to pay attorneys' fees, Minix said.

URS' attorney, Timothy Woodward, was out of town and could not be reached for comment Friday.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.com.