Water district blames Weber County and contractor for imperiled pipeline

Wednesday , November 15, 2017 - 5:00 AM

MARK SHENEFELT, Standard-Examiner Staff

OGDEN — A major drinking water pipeline in southeast Weber County could be damaged or even crushed by the tons of dirt dumped during the Skyline Drive road extension project in 2016 and never removed, a service district’s lawsuit says.

Hundreds of residents might lose their water supply, and homes on a hillside below could be flooded, the Uintah Highlands Improvement District said in a 2nd District Court suit filed against Weber County, Wardell Brothers Construction of Morgan and property owner Jonathan Ford.

RELATED: Utah group seeks state audit of water pipeline project

In a flurry of cross-claims, the defendants blame the water district or one another.

D. Brent Rose, an attorney representing the district, said the Sept. 22 suit came after the water entity got “absolutely zero response” to repeated requests and demands since the contractor dumped the fill, 4 to 8 feet deep spread over 600 feet of its underground pipeline easement, which roughly parallels Skyline.

The long-planned road extension, completed in 2016, links U.S. 89 to Ogden’s Shadow Valley area and Weber State University. The district said it has a protective easement for its decades-old pipeline, which moves mountain spring water to about 900 residential and commercial customers, including the Walmart grocery store and the Weber Fire District station on Eastwood Boulevard.

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According to court documents, the district has a 20-foot-wide permanent easement for its main, 14-inch pipeline. The buried line transfers water from a district reservoir about a third of a mile down to Combe Road.

The district’s suit says Wardell’s crews in March 2016 pushed and dumped the excavated fill on top of the pipeline easement route at about 5600 S. Skyline. The suit says a district representative told Wardell and Ford, the landowner, not to put fill on the easement. Wardell said the dumping was temporary, the district says, but the district then approached the county to demand removal of the fill.

More than a year later, the fill remains. The district has asked the 2nd District Court for an injunction requiring the defendants to remove the fill and pay damages and attorney’s fees.

A district engineer said the fill could cause “the soil and line to settle, shift or move ... potentially causing the line to rupture.” The risk of the line collapsing worsens the longer the fill remains, the engineer said in the suit.

The line is beneath “a ravine and wash area uphill from a major roadway and many homes,” the suit said. “A rupture of the line not only would cause a loss of service to the district’s customers, but would flood downhill properties, with the potential for extensive damage to property and resulting injury or death to persons.”

Water from a broken line would flow downhill at 30,000 gallons per minute, the engineer said.

Dave Wilson, Weber County’s chief civil deputy attorney, said he was aware of the suit. “My understanding ... is that the contractor had full responsibility to place that soil where it would be appropriate,” Wilson said.

Another county deputy attorney, Courtlan Erickson, said he understood that the district believed “the county has at least some responsibility” to see that the dirt is removed.

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In his answer to the lawsuit, Ford acknowledged signing an agreement with Wardell allowing the contractor to dump the fill on his land, but he alleged Wardell “failed to properly and appropriately level” the dirt, thereby making it unusable and a liability to Ford.

The property owner accused the contractor of failing to disclose there was a conflict with the easement.

But in its answer, Wardell said Ford asked the contractor to dispose of earthen fill on his property. It said the dumping agreement alleviated the contractor “from ever having to remove it in the future.” The contractor added, “Ford has agreed to assume all risks and costs associated with the fill material.”

Wardell also blamed the district, saying the contractor asked the water entity to identify the pipeline’s location but the district failed to do so.

The county echoed Wardell that the district did not identify the pipeline’s location. But if there is any liability, disposal of the fill dirt was the contractor’s responsibility, the county argued.

In its answer to the district’s suit, the county added a counter-claim accusing Wardell of breaching its contract to build the Skyline extension.

You can reach reporter Mark Shenefelt at mshenefelt@standard.net or 801 625-4224. Follow him on Twitter at @mshenefelt and like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SEmarkshenefelt.


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