Towns sue engineer over joint waterline

Published 6:09 am Friday, November 22, 2013

by Leah Justice
The Towns of Columbus and Tryon and City of Saluda filed a lawsuit against Joel E. Wood & Associates LLC claiming the water interconnect system he designed is defective.
The lawsuit was filed in Polk County Civil Superior Court on Oct. 21.
“The interconnect project is defective,” states the lawsuit. “During its normal and intended use, it causes areas of the towns’ water systems to lose adequate water pressure.”
The towns are saying that as a result of Wood’s breach of duties under the contract, the towns have sustained damages in an amount in the range of $700,000.
The lawsuit claims that Wood was negligent by failing to perform studies and/or modeling to determine a reasonable design to provide adequate pressure to meet the towns’ needs; failing to design a system that would provide adequate pressure; failing to recognize during design and construction that the system as designed would not provide adequate pressure; failing to advise the towns during design and construction that the system as designed and built would not provide adequate pressure and failing to advise the towns’ of the need for a fix to the system; and failing to devise and provide a reasonable fix during and after construction.
The towns are asking to recover a sum in excess of $25,000 for the defendant’s breach of contract, in an amount determined by a jury and that they recover a sum in excess of $25,000 for the defendant’s negligence in an amount determined by a jury as well as for the defendant to pay the costs, including prejudgement interest on the defendant’s breach of contract.
In April 2008, Wood contracted with the Town of Tryon to provide engineering services for the design and construction of a new waterline between Tryon and Saluda and a booster pump between Columbus and Tryon.
In September 2009 the engineering plans for the waterline project were approved by the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (NCDENR) and construction began in early 2010 and continued throughout the year.
“In 2012 and 2013, the towns complained to Wood about low water pressure and unfinished work on the interconnect project,” states the lawsuit, “including the non-functional radio-controlled SCADA system for the pumps on the line between Tryon and Saluda and the non-functioning chlorinator on Saluda’s new water tank, which was part of the interconnect system.”
The lawsuit states that during the late summer of 2013, after complaints from the towns, Wood completed work on the interconnect project, including activation of the SCADA system and the chlorinator on Saluda’s new tank.
In December 2012 after a water model was done by Saluda’s engineer Jonathan Hollifield, Saluda discovered that it cannot send water to Columbus and Tryon without straining its water system.
The report showed that the joint waterline project was faulty in that Saluda was not able to send the maximum amount of water agreed to without very low water pressures within the city.
The project was contracted for the towns to exchange up to 400,000 gallons of water per day.
Hollifield told Saluda last year that the interconnect’s 85,000-gallon water tank would have to be filled five times in order to meet the 400,000 gallon per day maximum and the city has a minimum tank size for the water agreed to be sent.
The Howard Gap line between Tryon and Saluda was made possible through a $1.73 million grant that the towns shared from the N.C. Rural Center and a $300,000 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission. Each town is also sharing the financing of $1.43 million obtained from the North Carolina Drinking Water Fund for the project, totaling $3.46 million.
The towns are being represented in the lawsuit by Cloninger, Barbour, Searson & Jones, PLLC out of Asheville.
As of Wednesday, Nov. 21, Wood has not yet entered an attorney with the Polk County Clerk of Court’s Office nor filed an answer to the complaint.

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