Property owners file lawsuit over Georgetown sinkhole

dwren@thesunnews.comJanuary 18, 2013 

— The owners of a UPS Store and three commercial buildings in Georgetown filed a lawsuit this week against the S.C. Department of Transportation and a trio of contractors, claiming their negligence during a city drainage project caused a sinkhole that destroyed their properties in late 2011.

Tony and Debbie Jordan claim the sinkhole – which occurred on Highmarket and North Fraser streets near an area where the transportation department was draining groundwater – caused more than $2 million in damages, including structural problems, diminished property values and loss of income. The Jordans are asking for unspecified actual, consequential and incidental damages.

The state DOT and its contractors – Davis & Floyd Inc., Republic Contracting Corp. and S&ME Inc. – have not yet filed answers to the lawsuit and no court hearings have been scheduled. Pete Poore, a spokesman for the transportation department, said the agency does not comment on pending legal matters.

The Jordans claim the damage to their properties resulted from a water drainage project the state DOT conducted beginning in 2009 to relocate a pump station, force main and water and sewer lines along U.S. 17 near City Hall. That project called for the state DOT to establish an area where groundwater would be drained by installing sheeting and pilings deep enough to reach an impervious underground layer of limestone or other material.

The pilings and sheeting were supposed to prevent the intrusion of groundwater from surrounding areas into the isolated area where drainage was taking place. However, the Jordans claim the pilings and sheeting were not installed deep enough and groundwater beneath their buildings was drained along with the groundwater in the planned construction area. That caused the ground under the Jordans’ buildings to become unstable, the lawsuit states.

The Jordans say there is no evidence that anyone established an adequate system to monitor the amount of water pumped by the state DOT and whether that amount was in excess of groundwater that should have been removed from the isolated area. It wasn’t until Oct. 21, 2011 that the state DOT became aware that the “de-watering process was drawing significant water from outside the intended isolation area,” according to the lawsuit.

On Oct. 29, 2011, the state DOT and its contractors were notified that there were depressions forming on some land outside the drainage project zone, including the parking lot of the Jordans’ Parrish Place shopping center. Despite the notification, the state DOT and its contractors continued the drainage project for nearly another month, according to the lawsuit.

At about 11 p.m. on Nov. 17, 2011, part of the Parrish Place building at 202 N. Fraser Street collapsed onto the UPS Store located on the west side of the building. The Jordans have since demolished the rest of that building.

In addition, the Jordans say the drainage project caused structural damage to their building at 1313 Highmarket Street and stigma from the sinkhole has diminished the value of their 1307-1309 Highmarket Street building. The drainage project also has been blamed for cracks that formed in other nearby buildings, including the Georgetown County Judicial Center.

The state DOT temporarily halted work on the drainage project after the sinkhole appeared, but later resumed the work and expects to have the project completed early this year. The state’s Insurance Reserve Fund – part of the S.C. Budget and Control Board – hired an engineering firm to study the cause of the sinkhole, but Poore said the state DOT has not been notified of any findings. Lindsey Kremlick, a spokeswoman for the state Budget and Control Board, said the report is completed but the Insurance Reserve Fund’s file on the sinkhole remains open.

“Therefore, any details related to the sinkholes in Georgetown are not subject to disclosure,” Kremlick said.

Contact DAVID WREN at 626-0281.

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