S&WB on the hook for possible $80 million lawsuit

S&WB on the hook for possible $80 million lawsuit

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - The New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board lost a court battle and may be on the hook for tens of millions of dollars in property damage.

After four years of drainage construction outside Ann Conger's home on Jefferson Avenue, the work on the street is complete but the work on her house is just beginning.

"There's been some cracks in the walls, cracks in the kitchen counter tops, cracks in the floors. The wood floors have started to buckle a little bit. The windows don't seal properly. The doors sometimes stick. There's been a lot of noticeable changes in the past few years," Conger said.

She estimates the damage to her home's foundation and other problems will cost more than $30,000 to fix.

Conger, along with nearly 250 other Uptown homeowners, sued the Sewerage and Water Board for damages to their property. The homeowners contend the problems happened because of construction for the SELA Drainage Project.

"I think the main issue was the vibrations, and that's what damaged the foundations and woodwork," Conger said.

With a lawsuit staring the Sewerage and Water Board in the face, the agency in turn sued the companies contracted to complete the project Uptown, claiming the businesses were to blame. Those construction companies included Boh Bros. Construction, B&K Construction and Cajun Construction.

But last week, U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt threw out that lawsuit saying the companies have "government contractor immunity" for such a claim, possibly leaving the Sewerage and Water Board liable for the damages.

"These people are not in this lawsuit to get rich," attorney Michael Whitaker said. "They're not in there to better their circumstances whatsoever. All they want to do is to get their damaged homes fixed."

Whitaker represents the homeowners suing the Sewerage and Water Board and claims the damage has reached $80 million. He also alleges the agency has money already set aside for this exact reason.

"I can't emphasize enough that they knew exactly what was going to occur. They anticipated it years in advance," Whitaker said. "There were actual agreements and reports and memos between the Sewerage and Water Board and the Army Corps of Engineers where they anticipated these exact kinds of damages."

In the tossed out lawsuit, the judge backs up Whitaker's claim by citing the Corps "zone of impact" where engineers stated "more likely than not damage could occur" 75 feet from construction.

"This should not be happening to them. This is not fair. It's not right. It's not just, and I have every expectation that, if and when we get to trial, that justice will be served for these people," Whitaker said.

The federal judge's decision moves the lawsuit between homeowners and the Sewerage and Water Board to a state court. Previously, the issue was set for mediation, but the Sewerage and Water Board opted out of that legal avenue, according to Whitaker.

The Sewerage and Water board declined to comment about either lawsuit, citing pending litigation.

Whitaker anticipates the homeowners' lawsuit will be in front of a judge by spring or summer of 2017.

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