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Dayton sues bridge builder over massive 2019 water outage

TY GREENLEES / STAFF
TY GREENLEES / STAFF

The city of Dayton is seeking in excess of $2 million in a lawsuit filed Friday against a Sidney-based company the city alleges is responsible for a massive 2019 water main break that caused a nearly countywide outage and poured more than 150 million gallons of treated water into the Great Miami River.

The city claims that while Eagle Bridge Co. was rebuilding the Keowee Street bridge, the company’s “negligently and/or recklessly constructing” of the bridge diverted the flow of water in the river, causing excessive erosion of the embankment, which ruptured a 36-inch water main, according to the complaint filed in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court.

MORE: What Dayton learned after the unprecedented water outage

Tens of thousands of area residents lost water entirely during the Feb. 13, 2019 outage that rippled throughout the county. A countywide boil advisory affected 400,000 people for more than 40 hours. Schools and businesses closed.

“Eagle Bridge Company’s actions caused the Dayton Water Department extensive damage, not just the 14 hours of all-hands-on-deck in response to finding the water main and isolating it, also the cost of the actual repair and the irreparable damage done to the water department’s reputation,” said Joe Parlette, a Dayton deputy city manager.

Phone and email messages to Eagle Bridge Co. seeking comment for this story were not returned Friday afternoon.

The pre-stressed concrete water main was installed in 1990 and was expected to last 75 years, according to the city’s complaint. The city alleges Eagle Bridge improperly designed, installed and shaped a causeway and failed to properly armor the banks of the river, which led to the erosion.

The city has requested a jury trial and claims that in addition to damages exceeding $2 million, it is owed for injury to its reputation, which could impede the city from gaining future water customers.

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John Musto, Dayton’s chief trial counsel, said the water department had an “unblemished record going back 100 years” until the February 2019 main break.

“The Dayton Water Department is constantly trying to expand to additional clients, which both will improve their financial situation and reduce the rates for Dayton’s ratepayers,” he said. “So this negatively impacts the ability for the Dayton Water Department to go get ratepayers when we have a water outage like this.”

Crews were stymied trying to find the break because of its location at the river, city of Dayton Water Director Michael Powell told the Dayton Daily News earlier this year. With the amount of water lost, there would typically be multiple customer reports of of a break or crews would readily identify one because a street had eroded and disappeared, he said.

“(The break) happened at one of the worst possible times. It was raining, the river was at flood stage,” Powell said. “So with the river also moving very quickly at flood stage, it was murky.”

Less than three months later, residents were again without water when Memorial Day tornadoes knocked out the power to the city’s two water plants. Dayton’s system provides drinking water to most of Montgomery County. In addition to those in Dayton, businesses and residents in Centerville, Kettering, Harrison Twp., Riverside and Trotwood use water pumped and treated by the city. The lines also serve part of Greene County and extend to the Dayton International Airport.

In June of 2019, the city sent a demand letter to Eagle Bridge asking it pay for damages resulting from the break. The city then estimated the cost in lost water, emergency response, increased utility costs and final repair was likely to exceed $1.5 million.

MORE: Dayton blames county contractor for February water outage

Parlette said the bridge company’s insurance carrier requested more information, which the city supplied in December. In a letter dated May 29, the insurer, Travelers, denied the city’s claim.

“Upon review of the materials our expert noted that the work performed was performed in accordance with the plan documents, and while the plan design noted that erosion could be an issue, the area where the damage occurred was not one of those areas and was not foreseeable, in fact it was downriver from the project limits,” wrote Timothy McKay, a Travelers staff attorney.

McKay wrote that Eagle Bridge was not at fault and “any and all liability for the City’s alleged damages rest with multiple other parties who had responsibility for decisions regarding the water flow and project impacts.”

Montgomery County, which hired Eagle Bridge Co. to replace the bridge, is not named in the lawsuit, nor is the Miami Conservancy District, which issued a permit to Eagle Bridge Co. to construct the temporary causeway.

Construction began in 2017 to replace a then-86-year-old bridge linking Dayton and Harrison Twp. to the north. The rebuild cost about $9 million, according to court documents. Another $1 million was spent on design, engineering and land acquisition, the county engineer’s office said at the time.