Who's in Charge Here?

Inside the Broward Kremlin

Restrain the Crane

The mockingbird may be the official state bird of Florida, but to look around lately, you'd think it had been supplanted by another, taller creature: the construction crane. These spindly metallic spires have been the mascot of Broward's construction boom, dotting the skyline like one-armed scarecrows.

Unlike this trusty hunk of metal, however, these erector set refugees have been known to take a fall. Last week in the midst of Hurricane Wilma, a construction crane that stood at least 40 stories high snapped in half like a pretzel. The bright orange crane, formerly attached to an unfinished condominium, was located near the Westin Diplomat hotel in Hollywood and spent most of Monday and Tuesday blocking traffic on A1A. Meanwhile its sturdier half remained upright, though twisted and maimed from where the break occurred.

Bike to the Stars
Bike to the Stars
Restrain the Crane
PJ Tobia
Restrain the Crane

"This is unheard of anywhere... " an unidentified construction worker told the Herald. "Cranes just don't fall."

Well, that's not exactly true, especially around here. In early September, a crane fell onto the roof of a condo in Fort Lauderdale, crushing a balcony and scaring the bejesus out of residents. A week later, a crane toppled onto an outpatient building in Margate. In August of 2003, a 275-foot crane, also in downtown Fort Lauderdale, collapsed, crushing a number of cars and narrowly missing a row of apartment buildings. Back in November of 2000, a giant crane fell across Las Olas Boulevard in the middle of the lunch rush. As it fell, the crane broke into two pieces, narrowly missing a man who was stringing Christmas lights.

The reasons for a crane toppling are many, according to Andy Walker of Sunshine Crane Rental in Atlanta, Georgia. "I can't even describe to you all of the ways that a crane could topple," he said, though he cited "operator error and load shifting" as the main culprits.

"Cars don't just have wrecks. Neither do cranes."

The cost to contractors who rent the cranes for construction projects can be astronomical, anywhere from $20,000 to $100,000 a month, according to Walker.

Though no one's been hurt by one of these errant behemoths, they operate in densely populated areas, often swinging loads well in excess of one ton. It seems almost a matter of time before injury, or worse, cranker occurs.

There's one way to stave off serious injury, OSHA spokesman Luis Santiago says. "If you don't have any cranes operating in this area, you won't have any failures."

City of Love

Say what you want about the folks who run Fort Lauderdale, but deep down they're just a bunch of dyed-in-the-wool romantics. Take the scene the 'Pipe stumbled upon while rolling through the broken glass littering downtown and amid the broken and bent trees along Riverwalk by the New River two days after Wilma hit. (Yes, yes, the authorities admonished everyone to stay home, but there's only so much Scrabble-playing and branch-clearing anyone can take.)

The big heartbreak for this sentimental old cylinder came at the city park in front of River House, that classy and classical restaurant renowned for its alfresco dining beneath lofty trees. Several trees had tipped in their entirety, their roots standing 15 feet high. Elephant trunk-sized branches blocked the bricked sidewalk. The Connie Hoffman Gazebo, in front of the restaurant, was a pile of rubble.

The Rotary Gazebo, however, located near the railroad tracks, was not only unaccosted by the storm but getting extra super-duper loving care by five employees of the city's park and rec department. Several were on their knees, delicately laying new salmon-colored tiles. One gentleman leaned against the rail and observed the men in a supervisor-ish way. How is it, the 'Pipe asked him, that amid so much damage, the city is devoting such manpower to this beautification project?

"Yeah, we've been shaking our heads over it too," the leaner confessed.

Mayor Jim Naugle concurred that the project seemed a bit out of step with the times. "I agree that we need to get the neighborhoods cleaned up first," he said, suggesting that parks director Phil Thornburg would have an explanation. In one word, he did: amore.

"We promised a lady before the hurricane that we'd have this done for her wedding," Thornburg explained. (The city pulls in a cool $132 for renting out the gazebo for two hours.) The parks department had tried to reach her after the storm to ask whether the countywide electrical loss, a gas shortage, and the airport shutdown had altered her nuptial plans. Alas, she was incommunicado — probably busily hand-sewing taffeta by candlelight for the big day. The city wasn't going to take any chances, though, and it threw some real municipal elbow grease into the job.

So let's hear it for Fort Lauderdale, the City of Love.

— As told to Edmund Newton

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