Is construction next door to a Brickell condo causing safety problems? Residents are concerned

Flooding at a construction site in Brickell has neighbors in a nearby condominium concerned about their safety.

MIAMI, Fla. – Residents of a high rise in Brickell are concerned about their safety over a construction site next door where a new luxury condo is being built.

Mandy Karnauskas lives in Brickell Townhouse, next door to the Una Residences under construction.

“We see the ground actually moving, a piece of our property is sinking and our little tiki picnic huts are starting to keel over,” Karnauskas told Local 10 News.

Last month, water began upwelling into what has been described as Miami’s most expensive and deepest underground parking garage during its excavation phase.

“I mean, they poked a whole in the aquifer right there,” Karnauskas said.

At the time, the project’s general contractor told Local 10 News that the water was contained to the construction site and “there is no evidence of impacts on surrounding properties,” but now Karnauskas is not so sure.

She said she received an email on Thursday night from the management company of her building that said the property is “starting to have some impacts.”

In that email, pictures of the building’s tiki huts were wrapped in caution tape and what was described as wood degradation in the pole base. Soil erosion, the email said, has caused the brick pavers in the area to shift, presenting a safety issue. The erosion was caused when water was extracted from the pit, the email stated.

Karnauskas wonders out loud: “What are the potential impacts of this construction on our building’s foundation? I would like to see inspectors on site,” she said.

On Friday, Local 10 News reached out to city building officials with her concerns. By afternoon, city officials were on site to survey the area. And we spotted city officials at the Una construction site.

Karnauskas, a marine scientist, believes that given how shallow Miami’s water table is, she welcomes city regulatory oversight.

“Where is the accountability here? What impact is this construction having on our property?”

Ant Yapi Civic Construction is the general contractor and they sent a statement to Local 10 News, which stated: “The flooding that took place on the UNA Residences construction site due to intrusion from the water table has been remediated. There is no evidence that the flooding adversely impacted surrounding properties. Construction of UNA Residences continues as planned.”

City of Miami commissioner Ken Russell confirmed Friday that another breach happened late Friday afternoon. Russell released an Instagram post Friday night in which he acknowledged the breach. He says that the new breach should be “capped” this evening, adding that: “We have demanded a report be submitted on, not only their construction site,” he said referring to the Una residences construction, “but the surrounding properties as well. And we need that done this weekend.”

On Monday, Russell confirmed that the city planned to issue a stop work order once the second breach was capped. It is expected that the breach will be capped by Wednesday. The stop work order, he said, is a precautionary measure in order for an independent analysis of the project to be performed.

Three experts are being brought in, according to Russell, to conduct an engineering evaluation: a geotechnical (soil) engineer, a structural engineer, and a seismic testing engineer. All three will report their findings directly to the city.

Russell added that the building department will cover the engineer costs since all of the engineers will report their findings directly to the city.

The general contractor’s statement, which was sent on behalf of William J Real of Civic Construction Company, Inc.”

“As is the case with any high-rise development in South Florida, our team has experienced a series of minor leaks during the excavation process at the UNA Residences construction site. The source of these leaks is the water table, which does not interact with Biscayne Bay or drinking water that comes from the Biscayne Aquifer. Our team is remediating these leaks as they happen, and there is no evidence of impacts on surrounding properties. Because the water table spans across South Florida, water intrusion of this nature is common during the early stages of high-rise developments in the region. We anticipate that additional leaks may take place as construction moves forward.”

Also, Karnauskas said she and other residents recently received an email from the City of Miami saying that they now plan to host a community meeting about the project and address the concerns of area residents.

Miami-Dade County officials said that due to the new breach they will have county inspectors out over the weekend because of the intersection of the water and their regulatory oversight when it comes to the environment.

After Local 10′s story aired on Friday, residents of Brickell Townhomes received this email from their condominium’s management company:

“After the email communication we sent yesterday regarding the closure of the tiki’s, word spread quickly and today we received a visit from the City of Miami Building Department and they agreed with the Board’s decision to shut down the tiki area and have deemed the area as unsafe.

Shortly after, our attorney received a call from Una’s contractor requesting a site visit so they could assess the situation. Our Structural Engineer was present for the site visit and he walked the grounds with Una’s Geotechnical Engineer and the Contractor and requested extensive testing so that the soil can be examined. This is the only way we can know with certainty if the shifting of the brick pavers and the tiki’s is related to what has occurred on Una’s construction site.

Lastly, we have once again been reassured that the structure of our building is safe . Our building was built with steel and encased in concrete. There is no concern regarding the structure, the concerns are based on what is happening in the tiki area.

More to come on all of this. We will continue updating all of you as we know more.”

About the Authors:

Christina returned to Local 10 in 2019 as a reporter after covering Hurricane Dorian for the station. She is an Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist and previously earned an Emmy Award while at WPLG for her investigative consumer protection segment "Call Christina."