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Since early fall, islanders have watched intently as work has progressed on the $8.25 million replacement of the twin spans of the Smokehouse Bay Bridge on North Collier Boulevard. That work has been primarily focused on the southbound lanes of the project.

Recently, city staff; representatives of TY Lynn, the bridge designer; brige contractor Quality Engineering, and an army of skilled cement workers and a convoy of loaded cement trucks lined up to prepare to pour the deck of the new southbound span.

Over the past days, the preparations for the long-awaited pouring of about 125 to 130 yards of the 5,500-psi concrete have been moving quickly. The concrete itself weighs about 4,000 pounds per yard. If they pour the entire 130 yards, it would be the equivalent of 260 tons of the material or 520,000 pounds.

"We should be able to complete the pour and have our work done sometime around 8 a.m. today," said Tim Pinter, public works director who was onsite the morning of the pour around 3:30 a.m. as mixers began to back up to the giant Schwing concrete elevated boom pump trucks.

"The decking will be allowed to cure for about seven days," said Mike Daniel, the city's construction services manager. "In the meantime, we'll work on other aspects of the project."

Like a scene out of the movie "Jurassic Park," the large booms and cranes were silhouetted against the bright lights from the elevated light towers perched near the bridge to illuminate the construction area for the multitudes of workers spreading the concrete to reinforce the bridge decking.

All four lanes should be open to traffic in the early fall, city officials said.

The Esplanade issues

Meanwhile, one of the unresolved issues at the site revolves around protracted and sometimes heated discussions between the city, its contractor and the board of directors of Building 1 of The Esplanade Condominium Association.

The major debate lies with a property-line dispute. The condo association has alleged that the city has been working on its property. That debate boiled over about three weeks ago when representatives of the association called the Marco Island Police Department and complained that workers were "trespassing" on their property. They had previously complained that a support structure for a retaining wall may have been on their property. When workers began to remove that structure to satisfy the association concerns, a call was made to the Marco Police Department, alleging a trespass violation.

The association has also brought the dock owners at The Esplanade into the debate, claiming the Esplanade Marina Association had lost "riparian" rights due to the replacement and subsequent rebuilding of the aging and failing seawall under the bridge and abutting the seawall area near the marina association's property.

Dr. William Trotter, president of the Building 1 owners group and a resident of The Esplanade, served as a city councilman for eight years and is on the city's Planning Board. Attorney John Arceri, also a former councilman who now resides at The Esplanade, has been serving as a spokesman for the association.

The call about trespassing came as a surprise to some, as Trotter appeared before City Council on Dec. 1 and publicly stated he understood that construction might indeed spill over onto their property, but the association understood that if in fact there were any damage that the city and contractor would repair any of that damage. That all changed three weeks ago when the formal complaint was filed and Marco police called to the property.

Surveys

Three surveys have been done of the project, the last done by American Engineering. Those surveys show the city is within the legal right of way as to the bridge and its associated sidewalks and walls. The latest survey also shows that the seawall is well within its legal boundaries.

The association had also been concerned about possible damage to their building due to the pile-driving required to set the concrete pilings for the bridge structure. Normally one vibration meter is placed on a construction site such as this. However, due to a flurry of correspondence to both city councilors and city staff, there are three meters on this site – one by TY Lynn, one by Quality Engineering and another by the city at additional costs at taxpayers' expense. The meters have found no readings out of ordinary to this date.

The contractor has also "pre-drilled" the piling sites to minimize any potential destructive vibrations at no additional costs to the city.

A request made by the city manager to address the owners directly to deal with any questions or discuss concerns was declined early-on as a run up to the project beginning last September.

Both Trotter and Arceri had appeared before council and requested that consideration be given to some of the landscaping that will be placed in the area abutting their property line to add to the aesthetics of the area near the association property line.

Trotter, who had a reputation for fiscal frugality when on the council, championed the necessity to minimize anything other than the minimum of accoutrements that would be added to the structure and the surrounding areas.

A longtime agreement dating back to 1998 and amended in 2002 and 2004 provides for the city and The Esplanade to cooperate in the beautification of the area while providing for public access in the area adjacent to the Smokehouse Bay Bridge. As part of the development agreement, The Esplanade was required to maintain a 10-foot promenade completely around the property for public access.

The landscaping portion of the bridge project was removed as part of the contract with Quality Engineering and the city will be bidding that final package out for landscaping and lighting in an effort to find some savings.

Council has requested that the staff work out those issues with The Esplanade and deferred being directly involved in those items.

The condo association has since hired a law firm to represent their interests and the city's attorney was to meet with representatives of the firm to discuss any ongoing issues and how best to move forward.

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