Port of Palm Beach sued by contractor over Caribbean, Cuba berth cost

The Port of Palm Beach Commission and its executive director Manuel Almira are scheduled to hold a closed-door strategy session with the port attorneys Thursday over a lawsuit a contractor has filed against the port over its Berth 17 project.

Berth 17, a mini-slip at the Riviera Beach-based port’s southernmost berth, has been touted as an expansion and infrastructure improvement that will serve as a base for rail-barge service for the entire Caribbean and potentially, for cargo service to Cuba. The slip will allow the port to add another user and will feature daily loading and unloading of cargo via roll-on/roll-off ramp.

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LM Heavy Civil Construction, Palm Beach Gardens has sued the port seeking at least an additional $376,669 because the deteriorating steel sheet piles could not be removed using standard methods. The total amount in dispute is $618,006.

Port attorney Donald Bicknell declined comment.


The $11.3 million Berth 17 and paving project broke ground in July 2016 and was slated to be completed this month. The project is now expected to be completed by December.

The total included $10.4 million in construction costs and $897,000 in engineering fees. Additional engineering fees of $187,973 are being paid to the project’s engineering firm, AECOM Technical Services, West Palm Beach.

Difficulties in removing crumbling sheet metal piles along with additional engineering costs have increased the project’s price tag and lengthened the construction time, according to a report by Port Engineer Jose Soler.

If all the additional claims are granted, the cost could reach $12.1 million.

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AECOM, which oversees the project, has denied LMH’s request for additional cost and time, and advised the port that under the contract, the contractor is responsible for removing the piles, Soler’s report states.

The plans LMH was provided stated the existing 63-year-old sheet piles were in poor condition, but mandated the piles could be removed by pulling.

“However, LMH discovered that the existing sheet piles could not be pulled utilizing standard means and methods, because, among other things, they were so deteriorated and decrepit that attempts to pull the sheet piles disintegrated them to such a degree that they could not be removed by pulling,” the lawsuit states.

Because the conditions LMH encountered were substantially different from what the port had indicated and/or what is typically encountered in the general location of the project, LMH encountered delays and substantial unforeseen costs. It had to construct a dam and excavate below the surface of the water to remove the sheet piles, according to the lawsuit.

It took 37 days to remove the sheet piles instead of the two days originally projected.

Berth 17 is the latest of a number of large projects the 162-acre port has completed in the last 17 years.

Since 2000, the port added the $30 million “Skypass” bridge, a $15 million cruise terminal and a $15 million maritime office complex. It also opened a South Gate Entrance, along with a 40,000-square-foot warehouse and a four-acre cargo transfer terminal.

In 2014, the port completed a $26 million restoration and expansion of Slip No. 3. The project, funded primarily by the Florida Department of Transportation, included replacing sheet pile that had been in place since 1954.

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