Streetscape project allegedly caused damage
March 16--SANFORD -- The streetscape project is alleged to have caused damage to a local business, although the insurance claim was denied.
Robert Woods and Ben Gardner, owners of the Wilrik Hotel Apartments, allege the city's streetscape project damaged valves on their fire system in August.
"The fresh water line comes directly in from the city," said Woods. "We just had it inspected and we ran a test on the whole system where we were pumping 750 gallons of water per minute. After the test was concluded, we passed, then the backflow preventer ruptured."
Two backflow valves had to be replaced. The first backflow valve that was rebuilt was a Ames 6-inch model 5000SS that prevent the reverse flow of fire protection system substances from being pumped or siphoned into the potable water supply.
The second was an Ames 3/4 inch model 4000B that prevents the reverse flow of polluted water from entering into the potable water supply due to backsiphonage and or backpressure.
"It ruptured because we are pulling what is known as 'crush and run,'" said Woods.
Crush and run gravel is a type of gravel that is commonly used in places where motor vehicles are often driven or parked. It is widely used for constructing driveways because the gravel, which is a mixture of stone powder and small crushed stone, retains the strength of the top layer of the driveway, making it durable.
Fix It Plumbing Services Inc. in Sanford was contracted to rebuild, test and certify two leaking backflow valves on the fire system, but declined to comment on the repairs and possible causes of the damage.
The final invoice for repairs, parts and labor totaled $1,834 and the owners of the Wilrik are still finding the gravel in the line and has caused them to rebuild the same parts again, according to Woods.
Plumber Duane Holloman, with CK's Plumbing and Backflow LLC., in Raleigh, explained when larger chunks of gravel end up in a backflow valve on a fire system substantial damage is possible. The valve opens and closes and can screen out smaller pebbles, although, larger pebbles will keep the valve open allowing flooding, he said.
"Any time you have gravel in the water line it isn't good," said Holloman. "Most of the time, if you have debris in the lines it's because there has been a rupture in the lines, there's been a cut into the line or a repair."
A fire hydrant was moved during the streetscape project during that time at Wicker and Steele Street, where Nall Contractors replaced water services throughout downtown by isolating the appropriate lines to permit the work and re-energizing them once the work was complete.
"During streetscape one of the water mains broke," said Woods. "When they put in a section of pipe they put crush and run under it, they laid a pipe down and filled it with crush and run and put more dirt, then they reconcrete or black top it because we are below the line, they didn't properly flush the lines."
Whenever a line is opened, with fire hydrants in the area, they will flush out the debris through the hydrants, said Holloman.
"So we got it fixed, reported it to the city then it ruptured again," said Woods. "We told them unless they come and take this section out with their pumps and properly flush the line it could potentially break again. So now we are waiting on parts again to fix this, yet again."
Sanford City Manager Hal Hegwer received the claim and followed protocol by directing Van Dowdy, the city's Risk Manager, to file the claim with the North Carolina League of Municipalities Risk Management Department.
The NCLM is a non-partisan membership association of over 540 cities, towns and villages in North Carolina that offers advocacy and insurance.
NCLM sent an investigator to submit a report to the organization and the organization issued a letter to Woods, dated March 8, that stated:
"The claim submitted has indicated the failure to the system was from a collection of debris and rocks within your system," said NCLM Property and Liability adjuster Charlotte Martin in her letter. "We have determined that there is insufficient evidence to substantiate that the damage to your equipment from debris was a result of a negligent act from the City of Sanford or their employees."
Martin declined to comment on the threshold of evidence required to substantiate the claim and deferred to the NCLM legal department. It didn't respond to a voicemail message by deadline.
"We treat all claims the same," said Sanford Mayor Chet Mann. "We send claims to the insurance company and we follow their determination. If a citizen has been harmed I want them to be properly taken care of."
Woods is awaiting additional parts to complete the repair for the second time and questions NCLM's decision to deny the claim.
"I need them to explain to me why they deem it not necessary for them to pay for the damage," said Woods. "This is a fresh water system, what are rocks and debris doing in a fresh water system? What burden of proof do you need when it's a regular 6-inch line coming from the city water. That's your rock in a clean water line and you are now telling us, 'so what?'"
Reach Staff Writer Michelle Bir at 919-718-1229 and on Twitter at @Michelle_Bir.