The judge overseeing lawsuits stemming from the collapse of Champlain Towers South sent a message Wednesday to the Town of Surfside and its request to get access to the collapse site: wait your turn like everyone else.
Judge Michael Hanzman, saying he "noticed there's been a little controversy between, I guess, the city of Surfside and the county," heard from Surfside's mayor during the cases' status conference Wednesday.
Mayor Charles Burkett said, after consulting with the town's engineering consultant, "I take away that there’s something very, very wrong at this site, whether it was something going on beneath the surface or something with respect to the deficiency in construction."
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Burkett told the judge that, with a sister building still occupied two blocks away, Surfside doesn’t want to wait any longer for the county to give control of the potential crime scene back to the condo’s association.
The association's court-appointed receiver, Michael Goldberg, said in court, "I expect to have the property turned over in three weeks."
Not soon enough, the town has argued.
"I just want to put on the table that we’re hopeful that the judge will take into consideration, this is not something Surfside wants to do for the benefit of Surfside. It’s something that we believe needs to be done for the benefit and safety of our residents," Burkett said.
But the town has been notified it’s going to be sued, allegedly for its negligence in allowing the doomed towers to remain occupied, and Hanzman has to treat it much like any other potential defendant.
"We obviously have to balance the need to preserve this evidence and avoid spoliation issues with the urgency that you bring to the court," Hanzman said, "that being, are there other structures and other people who might be in danger?"
Hanzman told lawyers to have their plans on how to handle experts' access to the evidence and site ready by next week "that we can get an order in place implementing a protocol that will enable all concerned parties to do whatever investigations they need to do without compromising any physical evidence."
So the experts can have it, perhaps as soon as the end of the month.
In other matters, Hanzman said communication continued between volunteer community leaders he tasked with seeking government funding and other support for the victims, including any contributions to the sale of the association's oceanfront land, estimated to be worth perhaps $100 million.
But, he cautioned, "I don’t want anybody to get the impression that any government entity is going to come in and pay fair market value for this property. I’ve always been very skeptical that would occur. I don’t think it will."
He also told survivors and victims' families listening to the hearing not to expect to be fully reimbursed for their wrongful death, personal injury and property losses.
"It is one of those cases where I am convinced from what I’ve seen thus far that there will not be a sufficient recovery … to compensate everybody for what the law would proscribe the value of their claims to be," he said. "A that’s unfortunate, but that’s just the reality here."