South Padre Island "Leaning Tower" Slated for Demolition Foundation problems can be particularly tricky on coastal barrier islands, where potentially extreme structural loads are applied to a potentially unstable sandy subgrade. On South Padre Island in Texas, developer Ocean Tower LP has found out the hard way exactly what can go wrong: The company's 31-story condominium tower has sunk nearly 16 inches into the earth. Uneven settlement of the structure's core and its attached garages has created structural cracks, and the tower now leans visibly. The tower has gone from a landmark of luxury to an object of ridicule, dubbed by locals the "Leaning Tower of South Padre Island." Now, the New York Times reports, the tower has a rendezvous with destruction — demolition has been scheduled for mid-November (" Sinking Texas Gulf Coast Condos to Be Demolished," by the Associated Press). Ocean Tower LP is suing its two engineering firms, Raba-Kistner Engineering and Consulting of San Antonio and structural engineers Datum Engineers of Austin and Dallas.

(UPDATE: In 2010, a motion was granted by the Cameron County District Court, resulting in complete dismissal of all claims against the structural engineering firms. As quoted in the San Antonio Business Journal, Michael Brack, president of Datum Engineers Inc. stated "Our structural design for this building was appropriate based on the geotechnical and foundation design criteria we were provided by the owner. The problems at Ocean Tower are not related to the structural design. They are due to the excessive settlement of soils.")

The tower's builder, Coastal Constructors (no connection to the Coastal Connection), has been dropped from the suit. Developer Tony Domit, reports the Associated Press, has told potential buyers that their deposits will be returned. Lawyers for the engineering firms say they believe they can mount a solid legal and factual defense. For the less technically minded, however, the tower offers a chance for a good laugh at somebody else's expense. For a man-on-the-street view of the problem, it's hard to beat this YouTube video. (Caution: Colorful Language; Viewer Discretion Advised.)