Polk towns win $300k in lawsuit over joint water line

Published 11:12 pm Thursday, March 5, 2015

By Leah Justice


The Towns of Columbus and Tryon and City of Saluda won $300,000 recently in a lawsuit against the engineer of the towns’ joint water line project that incurred problems after installation.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The Towns of Columbus and Tryon announced the settlement during meetings in February.

The towns sued Joel E. Wood & Associates LLC in October 2013 after discovering the interconnect project was defective including that Saluda could not send the planned amount of water to Tryon without losing significant water pressure.

The towns hired Wood in 2008 to design the construction of a new water line along Howard Gap Road so all three towns could share water resources. The project also included a booster pump between Columbus and Tryon, which were already connected in water lines.

Tryon Town Council met Feb. 17 and announced the settlement. Attorney Bailey Nager, who serves Tryon, Columbus and Saluda, said Wood will pay the towns $300,000 and the towns will agree to a non-disparagement clause regarding Wood.

Columbus Town Council met Feb. 19 and also discussed the settlement. Columbus council members said they agreed to the settlement but will not agree to put any additional funding into fixing the issues beyond the $300,000.

Nager told Tryon Council the attorney fees and expert witnesses in the case cost between $125,000-$135,000 and the remainder of the settlement is available for improvements to the project. Nager also suggested all three town councils meet jointly to decide what repairs to do as well as hiring an engineer to design the repairs.

In the lawsuit, the towns claimed as a result of Wood’s breach of duties under the contract, the towns sustained damages in an amount in the range of $700,000.
The lawsuit also claimed 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 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 December 2012 after Saluda’s engineer Jonathan Hollifield completed a water model of the city’s system, Saluda discovered that it cannot send water to Columbus and Tryon without straining its water system.
The project 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. In order to pay back the loan, all towns’ water customers have a monthly $3.40 user fee.