NL busi­ness owner to pur­sue law­suit

City blamed for wa­ter problems in area of Jef­fer­son, Garfield Av­enues

The Day - - REGION - By GREG SMITH Day Staff Writer

New Lon­don — A Jef­fer­son Av­enue busi­ness owner has filed a no­tice of in­tent to sue the city over what he claims are mil­lions of dol­lars in dam­age to his prop­er­ties caused by in­ad­e­quate drainage on city streets.

Jeff Suntup blames the city for on­go­ing wa­ter problems and claims in his no­tice filed at City Hall that, while the area was al­ready prone to flood­ing, it was ex­ac­er­bated by work per­formed by the city in 2012 to ac­com­mo­date stormwa­ter runoff from the for­mer First His­panic Bap­tist Church at 35 Red­den Ave.

Suntup is the owner of Any­time Fuel Oil and Bernie’s Used Cars and Tow­ing and owns prop­er­ties that in­clude 130-134 Jef­fer­son Ave. and 128 Jef­fer­son Ave. He claims wa­ter runoff from Garfield Av­enue has in­fil­trated not only his prop­erty but busi­nesses nearby that in­clude Ruby Glass and the Vet­er­ans of For­eign Wars prop­erty.

The force of the wa­ter dur­ing rain storms has at times dis­lodged storm drain grates and moved curb­side ve­hi­cles in the area, one nearby home­owner said.

Suntup said the city’s fail­ure to fol­low en­gi­neer­ing plans or con­duct in­spec­tions of un­der­ground pipes, de­spite his re­peated pleas over the past decade, has led to wa­ter in­fil­tra­tion of his prop­er­ties re­sult­ing in mold in­fes­ta­tions, stand­ing wa­ter and con­sis­tently damp con­di­tions “pro­duc­ing un­healthy con­di­tions in

my build­ings and to all of my prop­er­ties.”

“There is a so­lu­tion to this prob­lem which has ex­isted for years but the city has cho­sen not to do the re­pairs nor pro­tect my rights. When it rains, one inch of wa­ter equals one Ocean Beach swim­ming pool worth of wa­ter ei­ther en­ter­ing into, or un­der my build­ings,” he said. “They’ve de­stroyed my prop­erty. It’s all un­der­mined. It’s go­ing to cost mil­lions to re­me­di­ate. Jef­fer­son Av­enue is go­ing to col­lapse. They know this and re­fused to fix it.”

The city ear­lier this year in­stalled a new drainage net­work on Garfield Av­enue, on each side of state-owned Jef­fer­son Av­enue, to help cor­rect problems in the area, Pub­lic Works Di­rec­tor Brian Sear said.

“There were some pipes on up­per Garfield not op­er­at­ing prop­erly,” Sear said. “There was not enough drainage ca­pac­ity to han­dle all of the wa­ter dur­ing rain­storms.”

Scope of city’s ef­forts

Along with new drainage pipes, Sear said it was dis­cov­ered that two catch basins in the lower por­tion of Garfield Av­enue were not tied into the area drainage. The city made them “ac­tive catch basins” to al­low wa­ter to drain rather than flow into other places. In some ar­eas, wa­ter was un­der­min­ing asphalt, Sear said. Wa­ter is car­ried from the hill on Garfield Av­enue, un­der Jef­fer­son Av­enue to the lower por­tion of Garfield Av­enue and even­tu­ally into a cul­vert un­der the for­mer Faria mill prop­erty.

“Our le­gal re­spon­si­bil­ity ... is to col­lect and drain stormwa­ter on city roads. That was the scope of the ef­forts,” Sear said. “Any wa­ter that’s on city roads we chan­nel and (dis­perse).”

Suntup said that, de­spite the ef­fort, the fix was in­ad­e­quate and lacked proper en­gi­neer­ing. He called the city’s work “back­yard pipe lay­ing.” Garfield Av­enue home­owner John Clark agreed with Suntup and said rains in Septem­ber that once again flooded his yard prove more needs to be done.

Clark said he has been deal­ing with flood­ing is­sues since he moved in to the home five years ago. His home is sit­u­ated at the cor­ner of Garfield Av­enue and Elm Street, and he says at one point rush­ing wa­ter swept through and com­pletely wiped out plant­ings from his yard. Wa­ter has moved his truck from his drive­way to the nearby stop sign, he says.

Clark wrote a let­ter to the City Coun­cil and Mayor Michael Passero in Septem­ber to ex­press his frus­tra­tion. “Our prop­erty has been viewed and com­mented on for be­ing well taken care of and each time it rains the flood­ing ru­ins our yard, de­stroy­ing our plants,” he wrote. “This is a large fac­tor that will neg­a­tively im­pact the sale of our home in the near fu­ture be­cause it di­min­ishes the value of our prop­erty, from a pur­chase per­spec­tive, and com­pletely de­stroys curb ap­peal.”

Problems with wa­ter in the area date to about 2002, Suntup said, when the First His­panic Bap­tist Church was con­structed. The church is a trans­plant from the Fort Trum­bull neigh­bor­hood. The church be­came the Church of the City in 2013 and sold in Novem­ber for $1.2 mil­lion to the Oa­sis of Restora­tion Inc., pub­lic records show.

Set­tled pre­vi­ous law­suit

Suntup said he sued the church and its builder, along with an­other church at 134 Garfield Ave., af­ter he be­gan to have wa­ter com­ing into the rear of his build­ings on Jef­fer­son Ave. He set­tled out of court in 2011. He said along with re­coup­ing money for dam­ages, the Red­den Av­enue church agreed to rem­edy the problems.

That led the First His­panic Bap­tist Church to ap­ply to the Plan­ning and Zon­ing Com­mis­sion in 2011 for a site plan mod­i­fi­ca­tion to in­stall a sys­tem to han­dle stormwa­ter runoff and con­nect to the city’s sys­tem. Records of the meet­ings with the com­mis­sion that fol­lowed in­di­cate the proper drainage work had not been com­pleted when the church was con­structed.

Records show the ini­tial ap­pli­ca­tion by the church was de­nied and a sec­ond was with­drawn. A third ap­pli­ca­tion, sub­mit­ted in 2012, raised con­cerns by the state, the city’s engi­neer and the Plan­ning and Zon­ing Com­mis­sion about how the wa­ter runoff would im­pact other ar­eas.

Mark Chris­tiansen, a mem­ber of the com­mis­sion in 2012, said the city took the proper steps to en­sure the new plans were re­viewed by the city’s con­tracted engi­neer. A plan ul­ti­mately was ap­proved on March 15, 2012, with a host of con­di­tions that in­cluded “plans, ac­cept­able to the City Engi­neer and the Depart­ment of Pub­lic Works, for the con­struc­tion of fur­ther improvements to the stormwa­ter drainage sys­tem,” be sub­mit­ted prior to con­struc­tion. The city was to be re­spon­si­ble for the ac­tual con­struc­tion of the improvements.

Cor­re­spon­dences among then Pub­lic Works Di­rec­tor Tim Hanser, City At­tor­ney Jef­frey Lon­dregan and for­mer City Plan­ner Harry Smith, show the city ac­cepted a $10,000 pay­ment from the church for the city to han­dle those plans and fu­ture drainage improvements.

Sear said it was un­clear ex­actly what work even­tu­ally was com­pleted by the city at that time.

Suntup main­tains the city “will­fully vi­o­lated their own en­gi­neered con­struc­tion plans.”

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