Feud between mayors: Surfside pushes for access to site of building collapse; Miami-Dade keeps denying it

SURFSIDE, Fla. – Recent letters between Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava and Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett show there has been tension behind the scenes in the aftermath of the June 24th building collapse that killed 98 people.

Both mayors share the desire to want to keep residents in the area safe, but they have a disagreement about who should be conducting what investigation and when. Trouble is Surfside officials may be suspects in the initial investigation into what caused a section of the 12-story Champlain Towers South to turn into a compact mountain of pancaked concrete.

Miami-Dade detectives and prosecutors and the National Institute of Standards and Technology are conducting the initial investigation into the cause of the tragedy. Surfside hired Allyn Kilsheimer, of KCE Structural Engineers, to look for safety issues related to Champlain Towers North, which was built by the same developer and in the same year as Champlain South.

“If we are denied the ability to access the site, a property within our own municipality, and we cannot do the investigations that our expert has prescribed because of the County’s refusal to give us set access, then the County, must assume full and complete responsibility for any loss of life and any other damages that may result,” Burkett wrote to Levine Cava on July 23rd.

Burkett sent the letter three days after the search-and-recovery crews found the remains of the 98th victim. Levine Cava responded nearly a week later. There was frustration in their exchange, but Levine Cava wrote Kilsheimer is being heard and will have access to preliminary reports on the ongoing probe.

“All work has been stopped on the collapse site as we address potential safety concerns related to the perimeter wall raised by Surfside’s engineer, Mr. Kilsheimer, and the shoring and bracing work required will likely take a few weeks to complete,” Levine Cava wrote. “The County’s forensic engineer will be ready to undertake work investigating the collapse as soon as it’s safe to resume our efforts on the site.”

Burkett wrote to Levine Cava: “Surfside officials have attempted, on multiple occasions and through multiple avenues, to address with county officials our urgent need to examine the existing conditions of the Champlain Towers South site – and do it immediately. It would not be an understatement to characterize our need to access the collapse site as an emergency.”

Levine Cava responded: “As we have discussed in numerous conversations, the building collapse site is the scene of an investigation ... We urge you to complete any additional inspections that may be needed of Champlain Towers North, and any other buildings under your jurisdiction that you do currently have access to.”

Levine Cava agreed Burkett could tour the site Thursday, but that’s not what Burkett wanted. Burkett said he is working on a response letter.

Letter from Burkett

Letter from Levine Cava

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Local 10 News Assignment Desk Editors Guadalupe Monarrez and Emily Hales contributed to this report.

About the Authors:

Janine Stanwood joined Local 10 News in February 2004 as an assignment editor. She is now a general assignment reporter. Before moving to South Florida from her Washington home, Janine was the senior legislative correspondent for a United States senator on Capitol Hill.

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.