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In addition to displacing residents of Berkman Villas Townhomes, the collapse of the roadway at the intersection of Coastline Drive and Liberty Street has forced the closure of the city parking lot between the former Duval County Courthouse and the St...
Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Feb. 4, 201512:00 PM EST

More questions than answers in street collapse

by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

No answers, just questions.

And no light at the end of the tunnel.

That’s what’s facing residents displaced from the Berkman Villas Townhomes after the collapse of a section of roadway along Coastline Drive at Liberty Street.

Without electricity since early Sunday morning, residents learned Tuesday afternoon the natural gas service to the two-story condominiums along the Northbank Riverwalk also has been interrupted.

Dawn Emerick posted Tuesday on her Facebook page that she and her husband, two children and the family pets planned to return to their condo after two nights in a hotel. Friends were bringing a generator to their home.

“We love our home. We want to be in our own beds. We want to flush our own toilets. We are going to ride this thing out here, in our home, as long as we can,” she wrote.

Emerick said no help has been forthcoming from the city or the American Red Cross, which helps people displaced from their homes by factors beyond their control, such as a fire or natural disaster.

But, Red Cross spokeswoman Amber Bierfreund said, loss of electricity doesn’t automatically trigger a response.

“We weren’t asked to come out for that,” she said.

Normal procedure, Bierfreund said, would be for emergency responders to notify the Red Cross that residents had lost most of their possessions or their home was uninhabitable.

“We would provide assistance if it were requested,” she said.

Tracking the cause

The city has begun the investigation into the cause of the collapse and the extent of the damage to the concrete platform suspended on pilings in the St. Johns River. As of Tuesday, no estimate of how long the evaluation and repair will take was available from the city.

The engineering evaluation will determine if JEA will be able to move heavy equipment to the site needed to replace a 5,400-pound transformer, cable and conduit that was damaged in the collapse. That has turned what could have been a quickly finished job into an open-ended situation.

According to Gerri Boyce, JEA spokeswoman, under normal circumstances, repairing the equipment and restoring service would take one or two days.

Moving a crane to the site is not considered an option, since a nearby portion of Liberty Street also fell into the river two years ago when a crane was used to pressure wash the parking garage adjacent to The Plaza at Berkman condominium tower.

An alternative repair plan is being developed, but can’t begin until the area is declared safe.

In addition, Boyce said, the townhome owners will be repairing the cables between JEA’s equipment and the units. A certified electrician will have to replace a secondary cable that was damaged in the collapse and perform a safety inspection on the property’s meter center before JEA can restore service.

“The property owner is responsible for the service line,” she said.

That brings up the issue of insurance coverage, which also raises more questions.

Greg Pierce, agent at Pierce Insurance Agency, said whether residents can recover any of their expenses associated with the incident will depend on their insurance carrier and their policy.

In some cases, having no electricity might not qualify a residence as unsuitable for occupation. He said some condo policies do not cover loss of use and in some cases, without a fire or other more common calamity, it could be difficult for a policyholder to recover a loss.

“It’s a real sticky situation,” he said.

Pierce said in any case, residents should at least ask for compensation.

“If it were me and a client called, I’d advise them to file a claim,” Pierce said. “And then see what happens.”

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