State seeks $7.1 million for damages in bridge collapse

Ship owner asks for ruling on liability

Associated PressJanuary 4, 2013 

Kentucky Bridge Collapse

The Delta Mariner sat idle Jan. 27 with part of the Eggner Ferry Bridge draped over her bow. The span collapsed when struck by the ship the night before.

STEPHEN LANCE DENNEE — ASSOCIATED PRESS

LOUISVILLE — Kentucky officials are seeking $7.1 million in damages from the company that operated a cargo ship that struck a bridge over the Tennessee River, causing the span to collapse.

The claim by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet is the largest among the more than $7.8 million in damages sought by businesses and residents near the wreck site in Western Kentucky.

BellSouth Telecommunications filed a $59,000 damages claim, and the owners of a nearby restaurant filed a $33,000 claim for lost income while the bridge was being repaired for four months.

The claims were made public Thursday as part of a filing by Foss Maritime, which owns the M/V Delta Mariner, the ship that struck the Eggner Ferry Bridge near Aurora a year ago. The company has asked a federal judge to rule it was not responsible for causing the collapse because some of the bridge's lights were not working. Kentucky Transportation Cabinet officials acknowledged that some bridge lights were out, but said the Coast Guard issued a series of warnings to mariners about the bridge before the wreck.

Under maritime law, Foss Maritime doesn't have to sue another party. Instead, it asks a judge to rule on the extent of liability and to halt all other lawsuits and legal proceedings while that determination is made.

Suzanne Lagoni, a spokeswoman for Foss Maritime, said claims had to be submitted by Dec. 12. The company moved last month to stop any further claims from being filed.

"There have been no discussions with the state about this claim," Lagoni told The Associated Press.

The amount being sought so far by Kentucky matches the total of an emergency contract Gov. Steve Beshear awarded last year to a Louisville construction company to repair the 80-year-old bridge.

"There are a lot of costs ... for repairing the bridge," Chuck Wolfe, a spokesman for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, said.

Kentucky officials said in their claim that the ship's operators failed to heed repeated warnings about the bridge, including one from a nearby vessel just before the collision last January.

"The span chosen for transit was not marked for transit by commercial vessels such as the M/V Delta Mariner and there was no vertical clearance information available on any of the electronic or printed materials in the pilothouse," Steven E. Smith, an attorney for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, wrote in the claim.

The Delta Mariner was carrying an Atlas rocket booster and other components for the U.S. Air Force's AEHF-2 mission from Decatur, Ala., to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, a trip that normally takes about 10 days. The rocket parts were not damaged, and there was no change in the scheduled launch date, the company said.

The missing span halted traffic on U.S. 68 between the western shore of Kentucky Lake and the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area until a replacement was set into place in May.

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