Threatened With Closure
Gets a Day Off:
On Friday Sept. 12 City buiding inspectors
closed the Whale Stadium and three other exhibits
because of numerous saftey violations in the electrical
systems, structures, and safety rails.
SAFETY VIOLATIONS - Sept. 2003
on Sat, Sep. 13, 2003
threatening to close Seaquarium
Wiring, bridge over sharks among the safety violations
By ANDRES VIGLUCCI
County building officials closed sections of the
venerable Miami Seaquarium on Friday and threatened
to shut down the entire attraction after surprise
inspections uncovered scores of safety violations
in its public areas.
violations include exposed electrical wiring, crumbling
concrete and loose, corroded guardrails on stairways
and viewing decks -- including the bridge over the
operators immediately began some repairs, and the
park will remain open this weekend after some areas
that inspectors said were unsafe because of loose
guardrails or other problems were cordoned off --
including the two upper-story decks at the main
reef tank. Gaps in the shark-pit bridge fence were
temporarily covered with plywood panels.
county building chief Charles Danger gave the park
until Monday to repair a long list of electrical
have Saturday and Sunday to clean it up. If it's
not fixed by Monday, I will shut them down,'' Danger
said in an interview, citing ``exposed wires everywhere,
open electrical boxes everywhere, light posts where
the wiring is bad everywhere.''
sealed off was a nonpublic tank where sick animals
are cared for. Danger said he ordered animals removed
from the tank because the supports holding up its
concrete roof are dangerously deteriorated.
operators said they will make all required repairs
and expressed confidence the electrical items, which
number nearly 80, would be fixed by the end of the
Arthur Hertz, CEO of Coral Gables-based Wometco,
the park's owner, denied any of the violations were
a danger to visitors or employees.
park of our size and our age is bound to need some
repairs. Most are very minor,'' he said. ``I don't
think there is anything of any danger to anyone.
I don't buy that at all.''
said the county's inspection, prompted by a videotape
of park conditions made by animal-rights activists,
found abundant evidence of shoddy, patchwork maintenance,
jerry-rigged wiring and long-neglected repairs throughout
the nearly 50-year-old Seaquarium.
can see they were patching here and patching there,
and patching on patches, and they have been doing
this for some time,'' Danger said. ``That doesn't
work when you have a corrosive environment. Now
they have gotten a wake-up call. They're going to
have to fix it up fast if they want to keep it open.''
immediate focus is on life-safety issues in public
areas, Danger said. But inspectors also compiled
a lengthy list of less-urgent code violations at
all 15 buildings at the park, which has been given
30 days to make those repairs.
alarming, he said, was the condition of many of
the handrails and guardrails that protect visitors
and employees from falling into fish tanks or tumbling
down stairs. The anchors on some, in particular
at the reef tank, were so corroded they were ''completely
gone'' and would not hold up if anyone leaned against
them, Danger said.
inspectors also discovered a crew doing repair work
on the manatee tank without required permits.
operators did rapidly complete repairs at the home
of its star attraction, Lolita the Killer Whale.
Danger allowed the stands surrounding her tank to
reopen Friday after they were shut down for a day
because of corroded guardrails and deteriorated
canopy support beams.
citations come as Seaquarium is embroiled in a controversy
over an agreement that allows it to pave over 6.5
acres of lushly landscaped public green space across
the Rickenbacker Causeway for 500 parking spaces.
sent inspectors out to Seaquarium earlier in the
week after receiving a videotape of alleged violations
from Russ Rector, whose Broward County-based Dolphin
Freedom Foundation has long criticized the attraction's
practice of holding and exhibiting marine mammals.
said members of his group made the video in public
areas of the Seaquarium after noticing numerous
instances of exposed wires, cracked concrete and
loose handrails during visits to the park to check
on its animals' welfare.
said the violations show park administrators have
as little regard for its patrons and employees as
for its animals.
may be an animal activist, but people come first
in my book,'' he said, citing the thousands of children
who visit the park every year on field trips. ``They
were willing to play with the lives of these kids
to save a few bucks.''
problems uncovered Thursday and Friday likely went
unnoticed by the county for years, Danger said.
reason, he said, is that inspections are usually
carried out only in the case of complaints or when
owners obtain permits to do work. In those cases,
however, inspectors examine only the complaint area
or the permitted work.
older than 40 years must be inspected and re-certified
every 10 years, Danger said -- a rule that covers
many of Seaquarium's buildings, some of which are
nearing 50 years of age.
those inspections are carried out by private engineers
hired by the owners, who certify to the county the
buildings meet required codes.
engineers working for Seaquarium might have misled
the county in at least one case, Danger said.
By ANDRES VIGLUCCI
PLANS TO PAVE PUBLIC GREEN SPACE
With little public scrutiny, Miami-Dade County has
agreed to lease more than six acres of lushly landscaped,
publicly owned green space on environmentally sensitive
Virginia Key to the Miami Seaquarium, which plans
to pave most of it over for a 500-car parking lot.
Now, more than a month after county officials quietly
approved and signed it, news of the deal has stirred
a furor from an unusual slate of critics - not just
environmentalists and parks advocates, but also
Miami Mayor Manny.
Published on September 6, 2003, Page 1A, The