Originally Posted Online: March 15, 2013, 9:26 pm
Last Updated: March 16, 2013, 12:06 am

RI's water main break victims await city's compensation plan

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By Eric Timmons, etimmons@qconline.com

More photos from this shoot
Photo: Todd Mizener
Brandon Foley stands outside his condemned house at 1527 36th St. in Rock Island on March 13, 2013. Mr. Foley's home suffered severe damage on Dec. 27, 2012 as the result of a nearby water main break which collapsed the wall of his basement. Mr. Foley believes that the compensation package offered by the City of Rock Island is unfair.
Photo: submitted
The basement of Brandon Foley's Rock Island home after a city water main break swamped the property.

A loud noise awoke Brandon Foley about 4 a.m. on Dec. 27.

The wall on one side of his basement had collapsed, and water was pouring in. Soon, seven feet of water swamped his home at 1527 36th St., Rock Island.

"It probably took about 30 or 45 minutes for my basement to be completely full of water," he said.

A break in a city water main caused the torrent that emptied a nearby 500,000-gallon water tower in a few hours, according to city public works director Bob Hawes.

Later that morning, city officials told Mr. Foley his home was no longer fit for habitation. Mr. Foley, who works for Harrington Signal in Moline, had to move in with a friend.

On March 4, the Rock Island City Council was asked to approve a compensation package for Mr. Foley and the owners of 1523 and 1525 36th Street, which also were damaged.

The compensation offered was half the cost of the damage. Mr. Foley was offered $40,992 or about half the $79,000 assessed value of his home, plus half the damage to some of his possessions.

He thought the deal was unfair and spoke out at the March 4 council meeting. Aldermen deferred action on the compensation package until Monday's council meeting, when they are expected to vote on it. 

City attorney Ted Kutsunis said at the March 4 council meeting that under the Illinois' Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act, the city only would be liable if it could be proven it had knowledge the water main was defective before the break occurred.

The compensation package was put together by city manager Thomas Thomas who declined to comment.

Some aldermen say they are on Mr. Foley's side.

"It was our water and it was our pipe, and I think we should take care of the damage we caused," Ald. Stephen Tollenaer, 4th Ward, said.

Last fall, a water main break overloaded a sanitary sewer and caused backup into several homes in the 2000 block of 37th Street in Rock Island.

In that instance, the city agreed - on a 6-1 vote - to pay for only half of the damage caused, which came to around $20,000, to resolve six claims. Ald. Tollenaer was the lone dissenter.

The homes damaged by the most recent water main break are in Ald. Joy Murphy's 6th Ward. She visited Mr. Foley on the morning his home was damaged and said she'd like the city to increase the compensation package being offered.

All three homeowners whose properties were damaged by the water main break had claims denied by their home insurance companies. The house at 1523 36th St. also was declared unfit for habitation by the city, but the property at 1525 36th St. still is habitable.

Chris Ellsberg, a State Farm insurance agent in Rock Island, said the homeowners would have needed flood insurance to be covered by damage from a city water main break.

The proposed compensation package the city is offering the three homeowners totals $79,000, plus $35,000 to demolish the two homes declared unfit. The city then would own the lots, if the council approves the compensation deal.

Mr. Foley said repairing his home could cost as much as $100,000. The wall on one side of his basement collapsed, and cracks have appeared in the foundation.

Because the home is condemned, he can't sell it and thinks it's fair that he should receive the roughly $80,000 appraised value of the property.

It's unclear what action the council will take.

"We know by Illinois state law that we shouldn't have to pay anything," said Ald. David Conroy, 2nd Ward. "So we want to be sure about what kind of precedent we are setting, and we also want to be fair to the residents."