The City of Bellevue has conducted an investigation into the February 29, 2016 break of a main water line that flooded the sanitary sewer into approximately a dozen homes on Hancock and Main Streets.
The sanitary sewer located near the intersection of Hancock and Main Streets was in need of repair and Gearhart Plumbing was contracted to repair the sewer. By law, an excavator such as Gearhart Plumbing is required to call into Digger’s Hotline to request locations of all underground utilities. Copies of the call tickets obtained show a number of addresses along Hancock Street that requests had been received to have utilities marked in the rear of the properties. No request was made for locations in the Main Street right-of-way, where the water main was broke.
Attached is an aerial showing the area where the work was completed. The green line is the sewer that was to be repaired and the red line is the water line that was hit. The blue circle indicates where the water line was broken. As is illustrated by the aerial, although close by, the line that was broken was not in any of the rear yards of the Hancock properties that were part of the locate request. No indication of a water line was made by MUD, the operator, at the point of the break. Despite the failure to mark the line, it is the City’s understanding that MUD assumes no liability for the reason that the request only required the rear of the properties on Hancock Street to be marked.
The contractor, through its attorney, has raised the “vicinity” defense stating that MUD had an obligation to not only mark the rear of the Hancock properties but areas within the vicinity. No law has been provided to support that position. Nevertheless, based upon the “vicinity” defense, the contractor’s insurance company, Columbia National, is not accepting liability. Upon receiving this information, the City Council of Bellevue has requested that a formal statement be released expressing disappointment in the actions of the insurance company and requesting that they reconsider and step up the plate to help these victims.
A meeting of the city administrators with the neighbors was held on Friday, April 15, 2016, to discuss the findings. Obviously, the neighbors were upset and the city empathizes with their plight. The City provided information on how they may proceed with a claim. The City has also hired an independent claims adjuster to help gather the information and assess their damages to help expedite the process.
Unfortunately, with a similar situation occurring in Omaha at 11th & Howard Streets with the same utility operator, MUD- and the same contractor insurer, Columbia National, there is a dispute of liability under similar circumstances, but for a far greater financial magnitude. Based on this, it would appear a resolution to be in the courts. Nevertheless, the City continues to look for ways to resolve the Hancock Street property owners’ damages while at the same time, protecting the taxpayers from footing claims that are rightfully the obligations of other parties to this matter.
For additional information about this issue please contact Bellevue City Attorney Patrick J. Sullivan at (402) 339-9550 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org