A Freak Accident On The Amazing South Beach Redundant Sewer Project

Is the City of Miami Beach mismanaging the contractors?

22 April 2016

By David Arthur Walters

A freak accident last evening has delayed the dragging of an assembled 54-inch ISCO sewer pipe stretched out 1,300 feet along Euclid Avenue, from 8th Street to 5th Street, across 5th Street and onward to 3rd Street, where the end will eventually be inserted into the entrance hole of the tunnel already horizontally drilled from 3rd Street to Washington Avenue and Commerce Street, and then pulled through that tunnel to Commerce, where it will be attached to the system that runs across Government Cut to the water treatment plant in Virginia key.

The hole at 3rd Street was previously the exit hole for a 3,300 feet long tunnel drilled 40 feet underground, from 11th Street to 3rd Street, into which the pulling of that length of pipe was completed March 18.

This new “sewer force main” is called “redundant” because, as stated by City Manager Jimmy Morales to Mayor Philip Levine and the Commission, there is no imminent threat of failure of the old sewer main that runs along Alton Road several blocks west of Washington and Euclid Avenues.

Of the 260 pipes electromagnetically tested there, a mere 8 pipes, or three percent (3%) of the total, were deemed stressed, indicating an incipient risk of potential failure, meaning that the stress on the wire bindings was the earliest or beginning sign that the system could fail.

It was with the incipient risk in mind that reportedly hundreds of requests were sent out to for proposals. According to city officials, only two firms were interested in the project, both owned and operated by highly qualified members of the Mancini Family. A $10,482,000 contract was awarded, and then $6,781,513 was added on a no-bid basis to the winner. A rush was put on the job although the city manager had stated there was no risk of “imminent failure” to the old system.

Traffic had been halted on 5th Street for the dragging of the pipe at 11 P.M. on Thursday when one side of a 19 244 lb. small (John Deere 85G) excavating machine travelling along the edge of the hole at 3rd Street collapsed the paving along the curb and got stuck.
A worker ran up to announce the accident. “Who was driving?” “The black guy.” “What? Almost all Mancini’s guys are black,” As it turned it, it was a white guy, one of Mancini’s employees, an old hand on drilling jobs.


Roger Williams, the city’s consulting engineer from AECOM, pointed out that it is very wet under the streets of Miami Beach, which was originally a mangrove swamp, and that the old wire-meshing system that protects the roads from collapse from undue weight is not optimal although it was good technology at the time. The curb area above the edge of the slanting entry hole was particularly weak.

In fact, one reason that the micro-tunneling is being done 40 feet underground instead of 15 feet from the top of the tunnel as originally planned is that the “Swiss-cheese” limestone that deep would protect the integrity of the tunnel as it was being bored, reamed and swabbed.


It took some time and considerably ingenuity on the part of the foreman for the small machine to be pulled out by a larger machine. Unfortunately, big chunks of concrete had fallen into the hole, which would interfere with the insertion of the pipe into the hole, so the pulling of the pipe had to be called off until it is cleaned out.

The fact that 5th Street is a federal thoroughfare requires a special permit to block it for construction. Apparently that is not possible on the weekend, wherefore the delay, no doubt costly to the general contractor, David Mancini & Sons, as well as to the drillers from Louisiana and Texas, employed by Hard Rock Directional and Spartan Directional, who are more than eager to Get It Done and go home. Indeed, disappointment was etched on their weary faces.

According to Bruce Mowry, cast in a recent news account as the mayor’s key expert in the salvation of the city from rising sea levels, the contractor wanted to drill a single hole of 4,600 feet from 11th Street to Commerce. In that event there would be no hole required at 3rd street, and the drillers would be long gone.


“Is there a good technical reason,” I wrote, “that the exit now entrance hole for the redundant sewer drilling could not have been placed near or at the closed CVS at Euclid and 5th Street so as to avoid disturbing residents and visitors at 3rd Street for months, and to avoid closure of the 5th Street thoroughfare for the round the clock-pull-back operation? After all, one virtue of the in-city trenchless “crossover” i.e. cross-under technology is to avoid traffic interruption. As you know, the CVS and Bank corner has already been under construction for a long time, and the parking lot is vacant. Again please know that I have no complaints about the contractors, but many residents and businesses have raised reasonable doubts about the city’s management of the project. Placement of the holes is one of several concerns.”

“There are always reasons for every decision,” he replied. “The alignment changes at 3rd street. The difficulty increases, and the chance of failure is more likely. It was my decision to place the drill equipment at 3rd. The contractor actually wanted to do a single drill and pull from 11th to 1st. It is better to not push the technology greater than we already have than to increase the odds of potential failure.”

Why the city would restrain qualified contractors from doing the best job that could be done when the risk would be to them as usual and not to the city remains to be seen.

The drilling team led by Barry Nailling, Cory Baker, and Boyd Simon are among the very best in the horizontal directional drilling industry. The general contractor is also eminently qualified by experience in public works far more sizable than this one. The three horizontal drilling leaders happen to be rather famous for setting what is believed to be a world record for the length drilled of a single tunnel, actually the intersecting of two 22-inch tunnels drilled for the 11,065-foot undercrossing of the Sabine River conducted two years ago by Quanta’s Ranger Field Services for Crosstex Energy Services. So the total was counted as a record although there were two tunnels drilled that met in the middle.

There is considerable bragging about the lengths of certain things in this world. Laney Directional Drilling brags about a “record setting” 10,971-foot river-crossing for the Kinder Morgan pipeline, saying it can now do 15,000, and Michels Directional Crossing brags that it has already crossed spans of 15,000 feet and has completed 60-inch diameter pipe installations.

Note that the maximum size of the tunnel reamed in South Beach to accommodate the pullback of the 54-inch pipe is 72 inches.

“Was it fair,” I asked Cory Baker, “to count the entire length of the 22-inch, 11,065 feet tunnels, when two tunnels were drilled to intersect?”

“Yes, because there is no way you could drill a hole that long in one drilling.”

What about the 15,000-foot tunnel Michels Directional Crossing brags about? I asked. Whose fish is longer? He said he recalled that a trench had to be dug to join two lengths of that tunnel.

Based upon the experience Hard Rock and Spartan and the bragging of other drillers, it would appear without further research into the issue that the Hard Rock and Spartan crews could have constructed the 4,600-foot tunnel in a single drilling without “pushing the technology.”

So as not to second-guess Bruce Mowry, a man with 35 years of experience working on water resource projects and who has offered to buy tickets for people to leave town if they are not positive about plans to save the city and think people should evacuate, I queried David Mancini, Cory Baker, Barry Nailling and John English  as to whether the tunnel could have been bored and constructed in a single crossing. They have not responded.