Last week’s heavy rainfall appears to have dumped a torrent of new evidence in a civil case involving the Mobile Area Water and Sewer Service (MAWSS).
As the utility officially recorded 14 inches of rainfall April 29, the deluge overfilled a retention pond at its maintenance facility under construction on Shelton Beach Road, breaching a retaining wall, knocking a nearby home off its foundation and filling the house and yard with as much as a foot of sediment.
The incident occurred about six months after the property owners filed suit against MAWSS for stormwater problems created by the construction.
“It’s a total mess,” said attorney J. Patrick Courtney, whose clients Thomas and Kathleen Finch were awakened at 2 a.m. last Tuesday by what he described as a “tsunami.”
“The electricity went out, the walls were knocked in, the house was knocked off its foundation, they were scared to death,” he said.
Today, Courtney said his clients were “living out of a suitcase” with salvaged clothes, but their house, cars and personal belongings “were destroyed.”
In October, the Finches filed suit against MAWSS over the construction, which they said, “removed trees and vegetation and changed the contour of the property causing rain water to flow in greater quantity” across their property. At the time, the Finches said the construction led “huge amounts” of water and sediment onto their property, which threatened to undermine the foundation.
The complaint sought damages for negligence, trespassing and creating a nuisance.
Responding in November, MAWSS denied the allegations, suggesting aspects of the complaint “appear to be addressed to actions of other defendants.”
Courtney said the breach happened three weeks after engineers from Volkert changed the outflow of the pond by installing a pipe that ran under the street to a drainage area downstream.
“The original problems were mainly the undermining of the foundation, but the house was not in jeopardy until they put in the pipe to drain. We told them it would not work and it blew out immediately … it proved to be a disaster,” he said.
In a statement, MAWSS acknowledged the breach saying, “we are very concerned about what happened and for the couple whose home was impacted. This project is still under construction and we have told the contractor and the managing engineering firm to make sure this issue is addressed immediately.”
When it’s completed, the maintenance facility will centralize MAWSS’ Field Operations away from its facility on Catherine Street in midtown and move them closer to customers and its Moffett Road facility. The new facility is designed to house major construction equipment, provide storage for equipment and construction material and a fleet maintenance facility.
A $10 million contract for the facility was awarded to Ben M. Ratliff Contractor, Inc. last year. Volkert is the project’s engineer.
Jackie McConaha, who represents MAWSS in the case, declined to give further details about the breach, but said they were working with contractors to repair it.
“We have impressed upon them the urgency to get this dealt with, because they are the ones we’re paying to handle that.”
In the meantime, Courtney said his clients were “shell shocked” by the breach.
“I do think MAWSS has been considerate of their predicament over the past week and I’m hoping to hear something soon,” he said. “They paid a lot of money for that project and presumably an engineering report that would work. It looks like they didn’t get one.”