Source: El Paso Times, January 9, 2013
By: Mary Schladen
The town of Clint and a long list of residents and churches are suing a group of construction companies and engineering firms, arguing that since 2010 they pumped out too much water too fast from the area so that the ground has sunk, twisting and cracking dozens of buildings in the Lower Valley community.
The suit was filed Dec. 28. In it, 46 plaintiffs are suing five firms that are building a sewer system for the town.
They claim the engineers and builders negligently used a dewatering method that is inappropriate for an area with such a high water table and such loose soil.
Their work “resulted in extremely aggressive and reckless dewatering which lowered the water table and caused subsidence at the ground surface resulting in damage to the plaintiff’s properties,” a consultant’s report attached to the suit says.
Defendants named in the lawsuit — Red Cliff Inc., CEA Engineering Group Inc., Bain Construction Inc., CQC Testing and Engineering LLC, and Western Dewatering — could not be reached for comment. They also had not yet filed responses to the suit with the court hearing the case, County Court 3.
Dozens of buildings
Kathryn Snapka, a Corpus Christi attorney specializing in construction law, is representing all the plaintiffs except the town of Clint. On Monday, she said the defendants had not yet been served the suit, but they already had indicated that they did not believe they were responsible for damage to dozens of buildings in Clint.
“The reaction of the construction companies has been disappointing,” Snapka said.
The plaintiffs, who include Clint Mayor Dale Reinhardt and the historic Bond Memorial United Methodist Church, are asking that Judge Javier Alvarez award the cost to repair their structures, punitive damages and the costs they incurred in bringing the lawsuit. No hearings have been set.
The Lower Valley Water District contracted with Bain to build the sewer.
The project calls for 33,000 feet of sewer lines buried at depths ranging from 6 feet to 25 feet. Workers had to draw down the water table to keep trenches from flooding as they worked.
Starting in late 2010 and over the following eight months, Bain drilled 31 wells, most of which were a foot in diameter and 60 feet deep, according to an engineering report commissioned by the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Each was to pump out water at 240 gallons per minute, according Bain’s permit application.
In the first phase of construction, 1,300 acre-feet of groundwater was pumped out from under Clint. That’s enough water to cover 1,300 acres — just over two square miles — a foot deep, or as the lawsuit put it, “roughly the equivalent of a 130-acre swimming pool 10 feet deep.”
The suit goes on to say, “The water pumped from beneath Clint was discharged into drainage systems owned by the El Paso County Water Improvement District No. 1, and was not re-injected into the ground beneath Clint. There was no effort made to re-stabilize the groundwater below the town of Clint and above the areas dewatered.”
Snapka said it’s impossible at this point to estimate what it will cost to repair Clint’s damaged structures, but she said that in some cases, it’s been catastrophic.
In June, one side of the slab under Raymond Jones’ house at 133 Hansard St. had fallen six inches.
“Today, you can see from the street that it’s bowing,” Snapka said, describing the house as a “total loss.”
She said damage to the building owned by the lead plaintiff, Bond Memorial Methodist Church, is also worsening. It will require the services of a firm specializing in historic preservation to restore the 105-year-old church, she said.