Six months after a tower crane collapsed in hurricane-force winds in downtown Halifax, N.S., there are no answers about why it happened and no timeline for when a report into the incident will be complete.
“It takes as long as it takes,” said Labour Minister Labi Kousoulis.
“The last thing we want to do is have an incomplete report. That’s just going to raise more questions.”
Kousoulis’s department received what it calls a preliminary engineer’s report into the accident in late September, but that report was almost completely redacted in a recent Access to Information release, and the department says it doesn’t clarify what caused the collapse.
In the meantime, business owners who were forced to shut down for nearly two months this fall are still tallying the losses.
Richard Fewell and the co-owners of the Stillwell Beer Garden were in the middle of opening a third location on Agricola Street and were counting on revenue from the seasonal business to help fund the expansion.
“It happened at a bad time for us,” he said.
The beer garden would have stayed open until mid-October, meaning it lost about six weeks of business at a busy time.
“We had to keep paying rent, so two months’ rent. We had to lay off our hourly staff so we gave them two weeks’ severance and then we had some other expenses, so all told our economic loss is pushing $70,000,” Fewell said.
The end of the cleanup in November hasn’t quite meant a return to business as usual. Like other business owners, Fewell is still working through how to recover his losses through different means, including insurance and the courts. Both processes are taking time.
“We did have insurance on our location, but because of our deductible we didn’t get anything for physical damage,” he said.
The federal Disaster Financial Assistance program is available to businesses and residents who suffered uninsured losses and Fewell is applying for that, but it doesn’t cover a loss of business.
A class-action lawsuit, filed by Ray Wagner, will be in court June 24. In order to decide who to take to court for damages, Wagner says he’s waiting on results of metallurgic testing on the crane and other testing on the turntable, which malfunctioned and was rebuilt months before the collapse. It’s hoped that will show why this crane came down while 27 others withstood the storm.
“That’s going to take place in Ontario, and I understand that will be either March or the first part of April,” Wagner said.
“It is entirely plausible that that may not give us any answers and then we’ll just have to move ahead in that context. Because we know one thing for sure, and that is the crane collapsed. Second thing we know, of course, is that it shouldn’t collapse. ”
Wagner says he isn’t worried things are moving too slowly, but he wants things settled soon for his clients.
“These are small businesses. A shock to their business, that has a great impact on them and we’d like to address their claims as soon as possible,” Wagner said.
Fewell and his partners have learned lessons from the disaster about their own business.
“We didn’t have business interruption coverage. So our biggest loss, which was lost profit and those costs, wouldn’t have been covered. That was our bad,” Fewell said.
“Being an outdoor location we decided not to get the business interruption because you think, well, you can’t burn down when you’re a patio.”
They’ve now reassessed their insurance coverage for the beer garden, and are hoping the province will make some changes, too.
The Department of Labour says the minimum liability insurance held by a construction crane operator in Nova Scotia is $2 million, which Fewell calls “woefully inadequate.” That’s one thing he’d like to see change.
The province paid $2 million to dismantle the crane and clean up the site and has said it’s possible it will have to recover costs through the courts. But a decision on that, too, will be made after the report into the cause of the collapse is complete.
“I sincerely hope that that report is made public because I think there will be a lot of learnings from that,” Fewell said.
Wagner agrees. He says with big storms like Hurricane Dorian becoming more common in Nova Scotia, and more tower cranes being set up across the Halifax area, people need to know they’re safe.
“People need to be comforted when they see a large crane towering over their shop or towering over the sidewalk or over their homes or residences, that they have a fair degree of confidence that there’s not going to be a failure that’s catastrophic,” he said.