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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Jan. 18, 200712:00 PM EST

Public Works director details Northbank Riverwalk situation for Council committee

by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

by Max Marbut

Staff Writer

A presentation about the problems and solutions involved in the Northbank Riverwalk’s deterioration was the first item on the agenda at Wednesday’s City Council Transportation, Energy, Utilities & Safety Committee meeting.

Public Works Director Joey Duncan said the piling that failed and caused the surface of the public promenade to drop eight inches might have broken two or three years ago. He said regular inspections conducted by the Florida Department of Transportation might have missed that specific defect because of its location and the fact that FDOT doesn’t inspect every piling.

Duncan said pilings usually fail at the tide line near the surface of the water or at the “mud zone” at the bottom of the piling, which is 50 feet below the surface in this case. The piling behind the Hyatt broke at 24 feet below the surface. Duncan said that is “surprising because you don’t expect a failure at that point.”

He also said all 1,000 pilings under the Northbank Riverwalk and the Courthouse parking lot will now be inspected and a full evaluation should be completed by the end of February.

The section of the Northbank Riverwalk from Newnan Street to east of the Courthouse is currently closed to pedestrians because, according to Duncan, “we’re being overly cautious to protect the Riverwalk and citizens.”

After he left the meeting, Duncan said the cost of repairs won’t be available until after the full inspection is complete. He said there is money in the budget for maintenance and renovation to the Southbank Riverwalk and those funds could be diverted for the Northbank’s repairs if necessary.

As for the City’s admission that it has known for some time the Northbank structure was deteriorating but did not take any action, Duncan said he’s glad he only took over Public Works last year.

“There may be a lot of explaining to do,” he said.

The TEUS committee also unanimously approved an amendment to an ordinance that currently prohibits sales and consumption of alcoholic beverages at the Arena at “any nonteam martial arts event or contest such as, but not limited to, boxing, wrestling (including team wrestling), karate and other similar martial arts events.”

Council member Elaine Brown introduced the amendment Dec. 12. She said SMG, the private company that manages City-owned sports and entertainment facilities, asked for the change in order to be more competitive with other cities when trying to book events.

Bob Downey, SMG general manager, said he surveyed several competing facilities in Florida and Louisiana and found no similar restrictions. He also said a martial arts event sponsored by a beer company had approached SMG about booking the Arena next month, but declined due to the current restrictions.

Brown pointed out she introduced the change because she couldn’t see any difference between selling alcoholic beverages at a hockey game, football game or a martial arts event.

“The City has a big investment in the Arena and we want it to be successful,” she said. “This amendment would level the [playing] field.”

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