By Mark Waite
Nye County filed a long-awaited lawsuit over the Blagg Road sewer line collapse Wednesday, naming Utilities Inc. of Central Nevada, Corrections Corporation of America, contractor Spirit Underground LLC and five other defendants for the faulty backfilling of trenches and paving of streets.
Other defendants include The WLB Group Inc., retained by UICN and CCA to work on the construction project; Viking Construction Services Inc., retained by Nye County to conduct quality assurance inspections; Nigro Construction, retained by UICN and CCA to serve as construction manager of the project; Atkins North America Inc., formerly PBS&J and Ninyo and Moore Geotechnical Consultants, retained by WLB, the engineer, for quality assurance and to conduct soil inspections.
UICN and CCA applied to Nye County for a permit, for which they made representations all work would be performed in accordance with submitted and approved plans, specifications and applicable laws, the suit states. The county said as part of those duties, the defendants were responsible for assuring soil compactions were being performed properly.
The suit states: “Through its investigation, Nye County discovered the damage was caused by defendants’ defective workmanship, design and/or materials employed. The sinkholes in the Blagg Road area and related damages were caused by UICN, CCA and the employees or persons under their retention, direction and/or control to perform work on the project including but not limited to their retained contractors.”
Nye County claimed their costs to date on the Blagg Road repairs total $3.6 million. The county expects to incur further costs to repair the remainder of the damaged road.
The county suit claims negligence by defendants in planning, designing, constructing, overseeing, inspecting, supervising and/or repairing the project. Specifically, the county said the defendants failed to use adequate materials, products, goods, devices and/or procedures, design plans or specifications for the project. The defendants also failed to supervise the work of subcontractors, failed to ensure defects were repaired and failed to notify the county of the existence of defective conditions. The defendants failed to properly conduct, supervise and/or inspect soil compaction on the project, the civil complaint alleges.
One cause of action for strict products liability, states “as part of the work performed on the project, defendants installed off-site materials, which were not properly compacted and therefore defective.”
An allegation of fraud claims the defendants represented to the county that proper soil compaction and testing had occurred as part of a scheme to complete the project on time.
“Upon information and belief, defendants knew these representations were false and/or had an insufficient basis of information for making the representations,” the suit claims.
The county filed a claim for fraudulent concealment, claiming the defendants concealed or suppressed the fact soil was not being compacted properly.
“Defendants concealed or suppressed this fact for the purpose of inducing Nye County to approve the project construction,” the suit claims.
Viking Construction, the company retained by Nye County to conduct quality assurance inspections, breached its contract by allowing shoddy and deficient work resulting in the project’s failure, including, but not limited to, failing to ensure compactions were being properly performed, the county states.
An executive summary included in the lawsuit, by the firm Pezonella Associates Inc., hired by Nye County to investigate the Blagg Road failure, identified several factors that cumulatively led to the development of the sinkholes.
“These factors include the use of native earth materials as backfill material that do not meet specifications for the required selected backfill; inadequate placement and compaction of the trench backfill by the contractor; inadequate quality control testing of the compacted trench backfill and the introduction of water into the backfill materials,” the company’s executive summary concludes.
Documents prepared by Ninyo and Moore for the Pahrump master plan update and geotechnical reports prepared by Geo Tek for the project construction indicated dry unit weight of various earth materials didn’t meet specifications for the selected backfill, Pezonella states.
“It is unclear from the documents reviewed whether this information was transmitted to their field technicians,” Pezonella states. “Our subsurface investigation confirmed the trench backfill in Blagg Road between Comstock Street and Adkisson Avenue, including Wilson and Big Five roads, failed to meet the specification for selected backfill, except for those areas where type two base was used as backfill material. Our subsurface investigation also determined the trench backfill materials along Blagg Road north of Adkisson Avenue and all of Mesquite Avenue generally met the specification for selected backfill.”
The contractor also didn’t place and compact the trench backfill material in horizontal lifts, according to the plans and specifications, Pezonella said. The contractor also had difficulty maintaining uniform moisture content of the materials being placed and compacted. Pezonella determined the sewer line trench backfill materials throughout the entire project were compacted to a relative compaction consistently less than the required 90 percent minimum.
The occurrence of the sinkholes on Blagg Road over the sewer line trench appeared to be related to water introduced into the backfill material, however Pezonella said there was a lack of soil deposition on the surface, evidence water wasn’t introduced at the surface. Where subsurface investigations revealed voids, earth material above and immediately beneath were not as moist.
The clay nature of the backfill materials, even though not meeting the specifications, if adequately compacted would tend to resist erosion and subsequent collapse, Pezonella said.
There were also several discrepancies between daily reports prepared by Viking Construction inspectors and Ninyo and Moore technicians, Pezonella said, but they didn’t appear to be significant factors leading to the development of the voids and sinkholes. Gravity lines to lift stations No. 10 and 11 were replaced after the final project testing by Ninyo and Moore and there’s no data indicating the backfill over these lines was compacted and tested, Pezonella said.
The suit was filed by the firm of Erickson, Thorpe and Swainston Ltd.
CCA contracted for the extension of water and sewer lines to the new federal detention center on East Mesquite Avenue in late 2009, the project was completed in June 2010. But after heavy rains in December 2010, sinkholes opened over the sewer line trench and lateral trenches from UICN lift stations No. 10 and 11.
Nye County kept portions of Blagg Road closed to preserve evidence. The road wasn’t reopened to through traffic until April of this year.