Towns’ joint lawsuit against waterline engineer goes to federal court

Published 11:43 pm Thursday, December 19, 2013

A lawsuit the Town of Tryon, City of Saluda and Town of Columbus filed against engineer Joel E. Wood & Associates LLC for work done on a joint waterline has been removed from Polk superior court to the United States Court for the Western District of North Carolina.

The petition to move the lawsuit to federal court was filed in Polk County on Dec. 5.

The petition for removal states that Wood’s business and residence is in South Carolina. The towns filed suit on Oct. 21 with the complaint on the defendant served  on or about Nov. 6, according to the petition for removal.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“In the complaint, plaintiffs seek recovery ‘in excess of $25,000’ for each cause of action but elsewhere in the complaint plaintiffs allege that monetary damages related to repair cost are expected to exceed $700,000,” states the petition of removal. “Upon information and belief, the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000.”

The petition further says that federal statutes say district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75,000 exclusive of interest and cost, and is between…citizens of a state and citizens or subjects of a foreign state.

“The instant litigation is now between plaintiffs, citizen and residents of the state of North Carolina, and defendant, who is both citizen and resident of the state of South Carolina,” states Wood’s petition.

The Towns of Columbus and Tryon and City of Saluda filed a lawsuit against Joel E. Wood and Associates claiming the water interconnect system it designed is defective.

“The interconnect project is defective,” states the lawsuit filed on Oct. 21. “During its normal and intended use, it causes areas of the towns’ water systems to lose adequate water pressure.”

The towns say 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.

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 order to provide backup water sources in times of need for each town.

“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 but Hollifield told Saluda last year that the interconnect’s 85,000 gallon water tank is not large enough to send the maximum amount of water agreed to be exchanged.

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, which totaled $3.46 million.

The towns are being represented in the lawsuit by Cloninger, Barbour, Searson & Jones, PLLC out of Asheville.

Wood is being represented by McAngus, Goudelock & Courie PLLC out of Asheville.