Group Files Lawsuit to Stop Miami-Dade Crane Ordinance

A coalition of contractors and crane owners last week filed a lawsuit against Miami-Dade County seeking an immediate and permanent injunction to stop the county from enforcing a crane ordinance that it said poses a danger to public safety and would bring commercial construction to a halt.

"Safety is our number one concern," said Al Soto, crane safety expert and vice-chair nominee of the Florida Crane Owners Council. "Our employees and I use these cranes every day, and we need to make sure we are protected. With this flawed ordinance, Miami-Dade is obligating me to put our employees in danger."

Members of Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc., Associated General Contractors, the Construction Association of South Florida and the Florida Crane Owners Council, were joined by Brian Wolf, a partner with Smith, Currie & Hancock LLP, in front of the federal courthouse in Miami to file the injunction.

"The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration clearly states that the Secretary of Labor must approve any ordinance that would infringe upon existing OSHA laws," Wolf said. "Miami-Dade has not followed the proper federal procedure. We are also deeply concerned that the County's crane ordinance will have a serious negative impact on commercial construction in Miami without any improvement in safety."

Additionally, crane experts say the Miami-Dade ordinance is unsafe because it requires additional "jumping" of tower cranes. Jumping is the process of extending the height of the tower cranes and is by far the most dangerous part of a crane's operation because is requires the dismantling, moving and reassembling of parts of the crane, according to the coalition. Requiring that this process be done as many as three times more often, as Miami-Dade's ordinance does, will unnecessarily add three times the risk to safety and hazards, the group said.

Under the ordinance, cranes would be required to be tied down and treated as permanent structures. One of the coalition’s concerns is that this practice makes the crane and building more rigid than it is designed to be, increasing the risk of damage. "Just like pine trees tend to snap in high wind while palm trees survive because they move with the wind, this ill-conceived requirement will put property and people at greater risk," said Peter Dyga, vice president of Associated Builders and Contractors Florida East Coast Chapter.

The coalition said that not only does the ordinance pose a threat to public safety, but it also would shut down the commercial construction industry in Miami-Dade County. Under the ordinance as currently written, none of the 200 tower cranes in use on ongoing construction projects would meet the standard. In fact, no cranes currently in existence would meet Miami-Dade's standard. Tower crane manufacturers would be compelled to create special versions of their products suited for Miami-Dade.

"If the commercial construction industry is not able to do its job, thousands of South Florida residents will lose their jobs," said Bruce Whitten, Chair of the Florida Crane Council. "That's bad news in an already tough economy."

Commercial construction has been a bright spot in an otherwise dark real estate and development market. The construction industry in Florida is a multi-billion dollar business. Currently, there is an estimated $6 billion under commercial construction alone in Miami.

"Florida's large-scale construction projects are impossible without cranes,” said Whitten. “We have to keep projects moving forward and keep Floridians working. But, with this ordinance, Miami-Dade has made it impossible to operate cranes in this county.”