Building chief says North Bay Village “took for granted,” deck had been inspected

06/17/2013 2:01 PM

07/22/2013 1:39 PM

A visual inspection of Shuckers’ Bar & Grill showed the deck gave way because of old age, according to North Bay Village’s Chief Building Official.

“There is exposed corroded steel,” said Raul Rodriguez, who has served as the building official for several other small Miami-Dade cities.

The concrete blocks covering reinforced steel supporting the deck had deteriorated and that much of the steel itself was eaten away, he said Monday in a press conference, four days after the deck of the popular spot collapsed, injuring 24 people as fans cheered on the Miami Heat.

Rodriguez also said Monday that after closely studying a required 40-year inspection for the restaurant and bar, he did not find any mention of an inspection of the deck.

Still, he said, the 40-year inspection determined all buildings and structures and electrical outlets on the property were in good working order – which village officials thought included the deck.

The inspection, done by Engineer Steven Jawitz, includes pictures of the deck, Rodriguez said.

“We took it for granted that the whole thing was in there,” said Rodriguez, who signed off on the completed inspection in January.

Copies of the inspection had not made available as of Monday.

Last Thursday evening, the restaurant’s 120-foot long deck snapped in a v-shape, sending about 100 people into four feet of Biscayne Bay water.

The next day, the village’s Public Works director said the 40-year inspection required for all commercial buildings mentioned the deck as part of the evaluation.

Jawitz, who wrote the January report, responded that Miami-Dade County building code does not require the deck to be inspected. He said he only cleared the building and its electrical system. He refused to say why the deck wasn’t inspected, or whether that decision was his or the restaurant’s owners.

“I wish I could tell you more,” he said.

North Bay Village abides by the county building code for commercial and residential properties. Miriam Rossi, a county spokeswoman for the Department of Regulatory and Economic Resources, clarified the county’s interpretation of the code on Monday.

She said it requires that all buildings and structures be determined safe by an engineer qualified through the state, like Jawitz.

She also said the county interprets that to mean restaurant decks must be inspected.

“The deck area is an assembly area of the restaurant and is used to seat and serve patrons; this area is part of the building. Consequently, it should be included in the 40-year recertification,” Rossi said in an email.

Another unanswered question: What was the capacity of the deck?

County fire rescue officials have said the internal restaurant can accommodate up to 74 people, but that it was the engineer’s responsibility to determine how many people could safely occupy the deck.

At Monday’s press conference in Shuckers parking lot, Rodriguez would not answer questions about how much weight the deck could safely hold, leaving that up the county Fire Marshal.

Rodriguez was asked if he planned to take a look at any other commercial waterfront decks inside the little village that separates Miami Beach from the mainland. The building official called it “a good point,” and said it hadn’t occurred to him.

In 2011, the village notified Shuckers’ owner Charles Grentner that since the building was 40 years or older, it had to be inspected. Jawitz completed his report almost two years later.

Grentner, whose family has shied from the media attention, issued a statement late Friday expressing grief and saying they were “dismayed” over the events.

On Monday, through publicist Seth Gordon, they did not respond to questions about the incident.

Village records indicate Grentner considered building a new deck behind the building on the 79th Street Causeway in 2009. Despite spending thousands of dollars on plans, permits, engineers and architects, the plan was abandoned. The city never issued a final permit for the deck.

According to county records, Grentner was issued a Class I construction permit in February 2010 to replace the concrete platform at the restaurant and bar, the entire wooden deck and the L-shaped deck attached to it. Only the dock was rebuilt, however.

The 25-foot-wide deck was going to be supported by 27 concrete pilings, with a 2 ½ foot retaining wall with an aluminum railing. The project, which would have required a barge and a tugboat, was expected to take no more than eight weeks.

Gregorio Batista, a structural engineer and member of Broward County’s Unsafe Structures Board whose company has done hundreds of inspections in Miami-Dade and Broward said, like Jawitz, he doesn’t believe there are any regulations calling for commercial deck inspections.

Still, he said, “It really needs to be looked at after 40 years. People sometimes jerry-rig buildings. They can become unsafe.”

Miraculously, only 24 of the 100 or so people on the deck Thursday night were injured, two seriously. Fifteen people were taken by ambulance to area hospitals.

On Monday, piles of debris still rested on the bay bottom behind the restaurant.

Huge planters were tilted over, chairs and tables strewn about. The large wooden deck, split almost in half, rested at an odd angle. The entire seawall was torn away from the restaurant structure on land, now resting sideways under the water.

North Bay Village police have ruled out criminal activity or overcrowding as the cause for the accident.

Anyone still searching for private belongings like wallets, purses or jewelry should contact North Bay Village Police and fill out a report.

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