Miami Herald by Nicholas Nehamas
May 2, 2018
Nearly two months after a brand-new South Florida bridge collapsed onto a busy roadway — killing six people — the Florida Department of Transportation is still refusing to release documents that could shed light on the tragic accident.
Now, the Miami Herald is taking the state to court. On Wednesday, the Herald filed suit against FDOT in Tallahassee’s Leon County Circuit Court to compel the release of emails, meeting minutes and other records relating to the bridge’s design and construction.
“These records are critical to helping us understand how this tragedy occurred and what can be done to prevent a similar incident in the future,” Aminda Marqués Gonzalez, the Herald’s executive editor, said in a statement.
The Florida International University bridge came crashing down at 1:47 p.m. March 15. Days earlier, cracks had been observed in the $14.3 million structure. On the morning of the collapse, FIU held a two-hour meeting with its engineers and FDOT to discuss whether the cracks presented a safety risk. The Miami Herald requested records from that meeting, as well as other relevant documents.
But FDOT says it can release only those records created on or before Feb. 19, citing instructions from the National Transportation Safety Board, a federal agency investigating the collapse. It’s not clear whether the cracks led the 950-ton pedestrian bridge to fall.
FDOT says it lost the right to share public records with the news media when it agreed on March 17 to become a party to the NTSB’s ongoing investigation. The state says NTSB has ordered it not to release documents from after Feb. 19. FIU and the city of Sweetwater, which was also involved in the project, have claimed the same exemption from Florida’s broad public records laws. The parties have released records to the media earlier than the cut-off date.
In a statement, Tom Yu, FDOT’s deputy communications director, said it has asked the Florida attorney general’s office for a legal opinion on whether the records should remain confidential. That opinion is pending.