This week, my hometown of Pensacola was hit by Hurricane Sally. But, that's not what locals have been talking about. Locals, including myself, have been mentioning barges and this company called Skanska USA. Why? Let me lay it out for you in full detail. Buckle up. This'll be long.
In 2016/2017, it was concretely decided to construct a new 3-Mile Bridge that connected Pensacola with Gulf Breeze and the beaches (plans had been in the works for several years prior). That project was contracted to Skanska USA, one of the nation's largest construction and development companies, for just over $400 MILLION. Construction started on this project in 2017: http://www.pensacolabaybridge.com/project-news/kick-off-event.
In September of 2019, the bridge opened up to traffic. Earlier this year, the bridge opened up to pedestrian traffic. The goal was to have the bridge fully completed at some point this year. Hurricane Sally had been brewing and was not forcasted to hit Pensacola directly so when Skanska workers "secured" the construction barges used for the bridge project, they didn't think Hurricane Sally would really affect the bridge too much. Regardless, the barges should have been secured appropriately.
However, as you may now know, Hurricane Sally became a Category 2 hurricane that landed a direct hit on the Pensacola area (and across the border into portions of Alabama too). In the course of the hurricane, several things happened:
1. A crane and a barge broke loose and struck the 3 Mile Bridge taking out a large section of the bridge.
2. 5 of the barges have washed up near Downtown Pensacola.
3. A sixth barge was last reported drifting toward the Escambia Bay and the Interstate 10 bridge when it grounded about a half-mile away from another collision.
4. A seventh barge wedged itself against the Garcon Point Bridge.
5. An eighth struck the main gate bridge at NAS Pensacola Wednesday night." That is a recorded total of 9 Skanska construction barges that broke loose and wreaked havoc on Pensacola. You can read more about that from the PNJ here: https://www.pnj.com/story/news/2020/09/16/pensacola-bridge-barge-hurricane-sally-3-mile-bridge-pictures/3474848001/
Now, as of a few hours ago, Skanska put out a release saying "Skanska made all appropriate preparations for the storm based on the information we had available at the time. The sudden shift in the intensity, direction and duration of the storm was unprecedented and entirely unexpected by the entire Pensacola community. Unfortunately, it was neither safe nor feasible to attempt the removal of barges and other equipment in the brief period between the storm’s sudden intensification and its ultimate landfall." Source: https://www.pnj.com/story/news/2020/09/18/hurricane-sally-damage-3-mile-bridge-pensacola-skanska-says-barge-removal-neither-safe-nor-feasible/3492153001/
Skanska USA's social media has not mentioned anything related to these barges as of 6:30pm, Thursday. Their last Facebook post is some boring thing: https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=3438225529568283&id=181423338581868.
Their last tweet mentions the importance of celebrating Construction Safety Week which, I don't need to tell you, is INCREDIBLY IRONIC: https://twitter.com/SkanskaUSA/status/1306293423696162817?s=19.
The community in Pensacola is outraged, hurt, and gut-wrenched. I think the best social media post that shows you the extent of the barge damage and how we feel is from my friend, Steven Gray, on Instagram which you can check out here: https://www.instagram.com/p/CFQipkqjVXS/?igshid=1vgn542uttg9y.
Of all the things in 2020, a barge attack due to human negligence is the last thing we need. Getting to the beaches is now relegated to a small little bridge near Garçon or driving several hours out of the way. As you know, the beaches are a source of pride, income, and community for the entire Panhandle area.
This nonsense from Skanska cannot stand. To get by, my locals have turned to memes and jokes to hide the pain.
PS #1 (10:56pm). Garçon Point Bridge is toll free until at least Wednesday according to the PNJ: https://www.pnj.com/story/news/2020/09/18/hurricane-sally-damage-tolls-suspended-garcon-point-bridge-florida-wednesday/5825767002/
PS #2 (10:57pm). I've seen at least 2 local law firms talk about lawsuits against Skanska on social media. I'm sure there are plans in the works that we do not yet know of.
PS #3 (11:15pm). Drone footage of the damage to 3 Mile Bridge: https://www.pnj.com/videos/news/2020/09/18/pensacola-bay-bridge-damage-seen-drone-video/5827404002/