Silt couple sues town over water main break
Silt resident Jay Barner has a damaged home, bills totaling more than $42,000 and few answers from the town since his home flooded after a water main break in August. For Barner, it feels like he has been hung out and left to dry by elected officials and some employees at Town Hall.
“My personal opinion is there were a lot of things that could have, should have been done and were not for whatever reason,” he said in an exasperated voice.
That negligence, a term Barner uses and one that the town refutes, is the basis for a lawsuit he filed against the town. The lawsuit, says Barner, was an undesired move and the last option in a scenario that could easily lead to bankruptcy.
“My personal thought is anytime you get to a lawsuit nobody wins except for the lawyers, and so far that has been my experience in this case.”
With the exception of a few remarks and a prepared statement read by Mayor Rick Aluise at an October Silt Board of Trustees meeting, town officials have refrained from commenting on the matter, citing the active court case as reason for not commenting.
“Going forward, to ensure the Barners’ right to a fair legal outcome, we will not be able to comment further on their case,” Aluise said at the meeting.
Through court documents, though, the town maintains it was not negligent and it acted “reasonably in accordance with applicable laws including its own resolutions, ordinances, codes, laws, statutes and regulations.” Further, the town has denied responsibility for the damage and cited the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act.
Jay and his wife Tracy were out of town for the weekend in early August.
On or around Aug. 13, there was a break in the water main that travels under Pioneer Drive, where the Barners reside, according to court documents. Repairs to the water main were underway when the couple returned to the home they built roughly 20 years ago.
By that point, water from the main break “had infiltrated the crawlspace under their home and inundated their property to the point that water was pouring out of the vents in the crawlspace onto their lawn, patio and concrete flatwork surrounding the home,” the Barners claim in court documents.
A town employee observed water coming out of the two vents on the south side of the home until shortly after the water main was shut off for repairs, according to the town.
Separate service lines, which the town asserts are owned by homeowners and therefore not the town’s responsibility, connect the Barners’ home to the water main and a main sewer line under the street.
Water from the leak spilled to the underlying trench for the sewer line and then to the trench for the sewer service line running to the Barners’ home, according to their court complaint. The force of the water caused the sewer service line to sever, allowing water to enter the line.
“Water and mud followed the sewer service line into the home, spewing out of a shower drain and toilet onto a bathroom floor,” the Barners’ state in their complaint.
Citing insufficient information, the town denied those complaints in its response.
So far, the ordeal has cost the Barners at least $42,000, according to Jay. The Barners have yet to receive an estimate for the foundational issues — Jay said one side of the house has sunk 3 inches.
But among the expenses that Jay is particularly sore about, is a $1,050 “cut permit” the town charged in order to make repairs to the sewer service line. He said the process of obtaining the permit was, at best, tedious and delayed the repairs by several hours.
“It wasn’t a deal of ‘sorry this happened, what can we do to help?’ It was ‘sorry this happened, did you jump three inches when you came through the door? Did you turn right? Did you turn left?’ That was the process I went through,” Jay said.
The town confirmed in its court response that a permit fee was paid, as was a deposit that was returned to the Barners. It did not include a dollar amount.
At the most basic level, the town displayed negligence that made things much worse than they needed to be, Jay said.
The Barners’ complaint states that “town employees made inadequate efforts to investigate or repair the extent of the damage under the road and did not discover the damage that had been caused to the sewer trenches or sewer lines before back-filling the excavated area and repaving the street.”
The complaint cites a previous water leak in the same vicinity of Pioneer Drive. The Barners assert the town repaired that break without investigating whether or not damage was done to the sewer facilities or trenches.
The town denies the allegation of negligence in the most recent break, arguing town employees “did not have information about the extent of the damage, if any, to service lines because service lines are owned by and the responsibility of the home owners.”
While there was a previous break on Pioneer Drive in 2011, the town denied claims that it did not adequately investigate the infrastructure. The only issues were related to repairing the actual road, due to being unable to obtain asphalt at the time.
Fundamentally different view of the facts
In one of the few public comments on the matter, Aluise, Silt’s mayor, delivered a prepared statement during the Oct. 11 Silt Board of Trustees meeting.
“Let me begin by apologizing for any discourtesy the Barners may feel in their recent dealings with the town of Silt. Citizens should never be made to feel that those who are hired to serve and represent them have failed to do so, or worse — are actively working against them,” Aluise said.
However, the town sees the facts of the situation in a fundamentally different light, and while some have questioned the motives of the town, it must act within the confines of procedures and guidelines intended to limit exposure and liability to the town, Aluise said.
“As your elected representatives it is our duty to consider the interests of the town as a whole. The town staff acted in an appropriate and timely manner, adhering to all accepted procedures and practices to contain this leak. The line and the town’s water are safe.”
The town is sympathetic to the Barners’ situation, the mayor added, and the town has since opened a bank account at ANB Bank for donations to assist the Barners. The account is under the name “Jay Barner.” The town also is working with others, including some at the state level, to try and close the gap between the state’s governmental immunity law and private insurance coverage.
Jay said that his insurance company has rejected their claim, and multiple insurance agents have informed him that one cannot even purchase insurance for this sort of situation. Again, the lawsuit was the last possible option, he re-stated.
“I’m just trying to not go bankrupt in the process, and it could happen very easily right now … it’s a matter of time.”
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The Glenwood Springs City Council voted to extend the existing face covering mandate for indoor public-facing spaces within city limits during Thursday night’s meeting.