Taxpayers caught in middle of dispute over bridge accident

It was a miscalculation of just few feet, but it caused millions in damage. 

A U.S. Navy vessel didn’t make it underneath a Jacksonville bridge when it was towed two years ago. Instead, the stern ramp of the USNS 1st Lt. Harry L. Martin slammed into the Mathews Bridge, resulting in $4 million in damage to the bridge alone.

Now, it’s a matter of who will pay for it—the state of Florida or the U.S. Navy. 

Either way, taxpayers are on the hook.

The state of Florida’s Department of Transportation filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Navy and a subcontractor on Friday, the day before the two-year mark since the collision occurred, alleging both the Navy and Moran Towing were negligent for not knowing the true height of the vessel.

According to the lawsuit, as the tow went underneath the bridge on September 26, 2015, the stern ramp of the Martin struck the center span.

The actual height of the Martin was approximately 6 feet higher than the U.S. Navy and its subcontractor Patriot reported to Moran Towing Company, according to the filing.

The state says Moran Towing also had a duty to calculate the true height of the vessel, but didn’t.  In addition, the D.O.T. claims the Navy knew, or should have known, that the Martin’s stern ramp was “either difficult to or incapable of being lowered to a safe height.” 

A spokeswoman for the Justice Department, which will represent the U.S. Navy in the lawsuit, said the department was reviewing the complaint and will respond in court.

In a report published last year, the U.S. Coast Guard said miscalculations of both the bridge and vessel contributed to the accident.

Neither the state Department of Transportation nor Moran Towing responded to requests for comment.