Dayton blames county contractor for February water outage

Company says it didn’t work on broken pipe near Keowee Street Bridge project.

Dayton officials allege a Sidney-based company is responsible for a massive water main break in February that put much of the county under a boil advisory, a Dayton Daily News investigation found.

The contractor and Montgomery County both reject that claim.

A June 25 demand letter from Dayton to Eagle Bridge Co. seeks “damages for breaking Dayton’s 36-inch water main adjacent to the Keowee Street Bridge.” The city estimates the cost in lost water, emergency response, increased utility costs and final repair is likely to exceed $1.5 million.

City officials have declined for months to discuss details of what happened and where the break occurred. But the Dayton Daily News has now learned through public records requests what city officials believe caused the unprecedented water outage.

Two county officials were copied on Dayton’s demand letter, which the Dayton Daily News obtained Wednesday. Montgomery County hired Eagle Bridge in 2017 to replace the Keowee Street Bridge, with the new one anticipated to open later this year.

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“As part of its work under the contract, Eagle Bridge Company constructed two channels within the Great Miami River to divert the river during the construction of the new bridge,” says John Musto, Dayton’s chief trial counsel, in the demand letter. “The diversion channels did not include proper downstream provisions to adequately transition both flows and velocities during the normal construction and water conditions.”

“As a result, the two channels that Eagle Bridge Company created caused up to 30 feet of erosion,” Musto says in the letter. “This erosion dislodged and broke the city’s 36-inch water main that was buried in the embankment just 200 feet from the bridge on February 13, 2019.”

The city reports it lost about 150 million gallons of drinking water.

“We didn’t do any work on that water line at all,” said Thomas Frantz, Eagle Bridge’s vice president. “They have made some allegations. It’s under investigation right now.”

Eagle Bridge executives declined to discuss the allegations further.

Montgomery County Administrator Michael Colbert told the Dayton Daily News, “There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that the work done by a contractor working on the Keowee Street Bridge had anything to do with the February water main break and the resulting outage.”

“This is a claim that has been put forward by the city of Dayton and directed to the contractor, and the matter will have to be resolved between those two parties,” Colbert said in a statement.

The Dayton Daily News used Ohio’s public records laws to obtain city correspondence about the water outages.

Among those documents was a May 28 email sent from Dayton City Manager Shelley Dickstein to a resident who criticized her leadership following the water main break in February and the Memorial Day tornado outbreak that cut power to two water plants. Both incidents depressurized the system and forced widespread boil advisories.

Dickstein told the resident that the 28-year-old water main “was damaged when a contractor for the county’s … bridge replacement failed to appropriately conduct work in the river.” The pipe was designed to last 100 years, the email says.

Before this year, city employees estimate the water system went more than 30 years without losing pressure.

Last fall, the Dayton Daily News reported the Keowee Street bridge project fell weeks behind due to the difficulty of relocating water and gas mains under the Great Miami River. The city’s demand letter did not say whether those problems were related to the city’s allegations.

Construction and construction engineering costs on the county bridge project total about $9.3 million, with more than 70 percent coming from federal bridge and surface transportation funding. An additional $1 million was spent on design engineering and right-of-way acquisition, according to the county engineer’s office.

Read more Dayton Daily News water coverage:

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» Contaminants in Dayton water above what some states consider safe

» Understanding Dayton’s drinking water issues

» Progress slow in addressing chemicals in local water systems

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