The Knuckleheads of the Day award
Today's winners are The Port of Palm Beach and its director Lori Baer. They get the award for the following.
The Port of Palm Beach is billing taxpayers for up to $150,000 in repairs to a 4-year-old cruise terminal rather than pursue claims against the builder or architect, even though the building has leaked in rainstorms since it was new.I suggest that you read the entire Palm Beach Post article.
The port, attributing damage to hurricanes Frances and Jeanne in September 2004 and Wilma in October 2005, has received $58,000 in Federal Emergency Management Agency repair funds and plans to apply for more.
But port staff and a cruise company tenant say the $27 million, ship-shaped terminal and six-story tower leaked before the hurricanes. They say the glass-skinned structure still leaks during storms as mild as Ernesto in August, when gusts got no higher than 49 mph.
But in its applications for FEMA repair money, the port did not tell the agency that the building had previous leaks. Lori Baer, port director since August 2004, signed the hurricane repair applications and said she was unaware of previous leaks. She blamed the recurring problems on harsh weather.
"All the damage that resulted was from Hurricane Frances" and the storms that followed, Baer said. "We were pounded for 20 hours and during much of that storm, I was at the port. It's difficult to put it on anything other than hurricane damage.
"If you think about doing a legal campaign with companies like that and an issue like this, you're talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars and probably years and it's not something I would recommend."
The port needed FEMA assistance because insurance deductibles were too high, Baer said.
The building was designed by Zeidler Roberts Partnership, based in Canada, and built by Catalfumo Construction of Palm Beach Gardens. Officials of both companies did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
A FEMA spokesman said applicants must disclose preexisting conditions. If FEMA finds a funding request invalid, the agency could demand its money back. No grants are final until a final inspection is completed, said Josh Wilson, a spokesman in the FEMA Florida Long Term Recovery Office.
Within a year after the signature building opened in 2002, leaks came through the roof or side panels and from operable windows, installed to meet Florida Building Code requirements to vent smoke, according to Carl Baker, a longtime port administrator and now a special assistant to Baer.
Catalfumo crews tracked down and repaired the roof leaks. The patches held until Hurricane Frances, then ceiling tiles started appearing water-stained again, Baker said.
As for the windows, they had been installed as a cost-saving alternative to venting smoke through air-conditioning ducts. The hurricane-resistant window panes on the building were too strong to break in event of fire.
"A fire ax pretty much bounces off," Baker said.
So the building needed a series of operable windows. But because of the persistent leaks, the windows were sealed and no longer open. What happens if firefighters can't break the glass? "Hit it harder," he said.
The building, which houses port administrative offices, U.S. Customs, immigration and the Palm Beach Casino Line, which operates the Palm Beach Princess casino cruises, was built to generate cruise line business. But those ships haven't come in, and the office rental fees and wharfage fees barely cover the building's construction debt and operating costs.
The Port is one big white elephant and now we learn its grossly mismanaged to boot. It don't surprise me one bit. Anyone familiar with PB County politics also knows why the Port doesn't get Cataflumo to fix the roof. The family owned company is one of the biggest contributors to local politicians. No one wants to upset that gravy train, instead taxpayers get billed for the company's shoddy work.
Such is life in Florida. The Port of Palm Beach and its director Lori Baer are today's Knuckleheads of the day.
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