FDOT Bridge of Lions Rehabilitation Project Historic City of St. Augustine (St. Johns County, FL)
Recently, FDOT engaged in a $76.8 million project known as the Bridge of Lions Rehabilitation Project. Rather than rehabilitate the bridge structure itself, originally constructed in 1927, FDOT purposed to build a replica bridge to replace the iconic landmark to the historic City of St. Augustine. The project was implemented in three phases, each a substantial work of construction in and of themselves, requiring construction and demolition work on two bridges. The first phase involved the construction of a “temporary” bridge. The second phase involved two sub-phases concerning the Bridge of Lions; first the deconstruction and demolition of the existing bridge, and, then, second, the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the new “rehabilitated” bridge. The third phase completed the project with the deconstruction and demolition of the temporary bridge.
On the eastern shore of the Matanzas River, two lodging establishments were located either side of the bridge: the Edgewater Inn and Dolphin Cove Inn. FDOT filed a direct condemnation action to take two small parcels on both the north and south side of the bridge from the two lodging properties. FDOT’s initial offer, which did include the cost to reconstruct a dock and small wharf in front of the Edgewater Inn, was in the amount of $300,646. FDOT, however, did not recognize any further damages or taking of the owner’s submerged land leasehold or riparian rights which ran with the ownership of the landward properties. Because of this, the owner of the Edgewater Inn and Dolphin Cove Inn filed counterclaims for inverse condemnation .
During the project, which extended over a six-year period of time, FDOT’s contractors deployed multiple barges for cranes and materials that anchored or spudded down up to three weeks at a time per bent during different phases of construction. Construction included both demolition and reconstruction of all piers, to bents, to roadway sections. All of this incurred immediately in front of the Edgewater Inn and the Dolphin Cove Inn, often within the boundaries of the owner’s submerged land leasehold and riparian areas. No longer was the waterfront location a desirable amenity; the patronage of the two motels became primarily limited to the construction workers on the bridge. Revenues plummeted when compared to other like lodging establishments in St. Augustine. As income producing properties, both properties suffered significant financial losses directly resulting from FDOT’s project during the six-year period of time.
In 2014, following a bench trial, Brigham Property Rights Law Firm obtained an order from the court finding an inverse condemnation of the owner’s submerged land leasehold rights, but not finding an inverse condemnation of the owner’s riparian rights. Prior to a jury trial on the value of both direct and inverse condemnation takings, Brigham Property Rights Law Firm negotiated a settlement which awarded the owner $1,800,000.