With almost all of the debris removed from the Surfside condo collapse, the oceanfront town expects Collins Avenue to reopen soon around the site of the former Champlain Towers South complex. That’s caused another worry: can the hollowed-out condominium site still support the adjoining road?
The engineer Surfside hired to study structural risks after the June 24 collapse recently warned the town and Miami-Dade County that Collins could crumble into a void caused by a collapse in the hollowed-out foundation of Champlain Towers.
“If the wall were to collapse or rotate substantially, the retained soil under the street and sidewalk could move with it,” Allyn Kilsheimer, an engineer with offices in Washington, D.C., said in a letter Thursday to Surfside and Miami-Dade. That movement “could cause portions of the street to collapse and could seriously compromise the utilities under the street…”
Champlain Towers a risk to Collins Avenue?
A Miami-Dade spokesperson said the county is rushing to bring in crews to shore up the remaining underground walls in response to Kilsheimer’s letter. “We are moving to procure a company to do shoring and bracing of the walls to assure there is no risk,” said Rachel Johnson, the county’s communications director. She said the National Institute of Standards and Technology, a federal agency investigating the collapse, has been monitoring the safety of the site.
Collins, the main thoroughfare on the barrier island that includes Surfside and Miami Beach, has been closed to traffic around Champlain Towers since the June 24 collapse. Miami-Dade this week said the debris field was all but cleared around the building, and Kilsheimer’s letter includes images showing the collapsed structure’s basement foundation surrounded by walls ending at street level.
In an interview, Kilsheimer, who is working under a Surfside contract, said he’s been told Collins could reopen this weekend. Charles Burkett, Surfside’s mayor, said Thursday he couldn’t share a specific target for reopening Collins. “Best I can tell you is: We believe very soon,” he said.
Kilsheimer said the concern comes from the Champlain Towers underground walls no longer having the support of the street-level floors. Heavy rain would increase the risks substantially.
Kilsheimer’s short-term recommendation is to close off the lane of Collins closest to the Champlain site, an action he said he heard was part of the reopening plan, anyway. His letter recommends Miami-Dade use dirt to create a berm below ground on the Champlain site to shore up the walls closest to the street and sidewalk.
“They need to keep traffic and people away from this wall by about 15 feet… If the wall makes it fail, it will just fall into the hole and nobody gets hurt,” said Kilsheimer, of KCE Structural Engineers. “If you want to make sure the wall doesn’t fail, you go in there and pile dirt up.”