Cracks in walls, floors and driveways blamed on Clark County sewer project

At 13 miles in length and a cost of $160 million, the Paradise-Whitney Interceptor ranks as the largest sewer pipeline project in the history of the Clark County Water Reclamation District.

But some residents along the construction route feel like they’re paying for the work with more than just their tax dollars.

On one small cul-de-sac in particular, homeowners point to cracks in their walls, floors and driveways they blame on the sewer line project.

SOME DAMAGE IS SERIOUS

Most of the damage is cosmetic. Some of it is serious.

Alexander and Elena Wilding submitted a $21,000 claim to Las Vegas Paving, the general contractor performing the sewer work in their neighborhood, after a long crack developed in the foundation of their home on East Oquendo Road in November.

That claim was recently denied, they said, though they are still trying to get that in writing.

Rita Hickey received her denial letter from the construction company’s insurance carrier on June 30. The insurer blames the cracks in her walls and driveway on age and the seasons, not vibration and ground settling from when a 5-foot diameter sewer main was buried beneath the street next to her house.

Hickey, who lives across the street from the Wildings, insists most of her damage appeared during or after the construction work, which wrapped up along their stretch of Oquendo early this year. Her driveway already had a crack in it before the heavy construction equipment showed up, she said, but now that crack is an inch wide and five inches deep.

Hickey said it can’t just be a coincidence. “I had a 35-foot hole on the other side of my wall.”

Clark County Nevada sewer pipeline project  (Gabriel Utasi/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

A BIG CONTRACTOR FOR A BIG JOB

Las Vegas Paving installed the new sewer main beneath Oquendo using underground tunneling machines and open trenching.

“They were digging out here for a good six or eight months,” said Mike Soha, another resident of the cul-de-sac within the construction zone.

He said he first noticed a problem in September, when he returned from a trip to find that a picture had fallen off his wall. Since then, a number of cracks have appeared throughout his home.

The damage is “strictly cosmetic,” he said, so he’s not sure when he might get it fixed. Las Vegas Paving rejected his claim.

Jim Barker, general counsel for the construction company, declined to discuss individual cases that might be subject to an insurance review or litigation, but said: “Each and every one of these claims was thoroughly investigated by an independent, third-party engineering firm and determined to be valid or invalid.”

He would not say how many damage claims had been filed by property owners along the company’s leg of the project.

Las Vegas Paving is one of Nevada’s largest general contractors. Barker said it is not unusual for the company to complete jobs in close proximity to homes and businesses. “We work in that type of environment all the time,” he said.

According to the Water Reclamation District, the finished Paradise-Whitney Interceptor will more than quadruple the capacity of the existing sewage collection system serving the southwest part of the valley, making it easily large enough to handle whatever might one day get built in the area.

The district divided the massive project into thirds and bid each section out to a different contractor to get the work done in about three years instead of dragging it out for almost a decade. Las Vegas Paving is responsible for the eastern-most portion of the job, from Nellis Boulevard and Flamingo Road to Patrick Lane just east of McLeod Drive.

District spokesman Marty Flynn said the agency has fielded a number of inquiries about property damage, but he did not know how many claims have been filed, accepted or rejected in connection with the work.

Contractors on the project are required to carry insurance and indemnify the reclamation district should anything go wrong during construction, he said.

“I wouldn’t expect damage to occur because the project was designed by construction engineers,” Flynn said. “But if it does happen and they’re responsible for the damage, they should pay for it.”

Flynn said someone from the reclamation district will be contacting Las Vegas Paving soon for an update on damage claims.

“They may be a private company, but they are working on a publicly funded project,” he said. “We have an expectation that people are being treated appropriately.”

FROM CUL-DE-SAC TO COURT

In addition to the crack in their foundation, the Wildings said the wall around their yard has shifted so much that their gates no longer latch.

Elena Wilding said a representative from Las Vegas Paving offered to pay a portion of their claim — a sign, perhaps, that the company was willing to accept some responsibility — but the couple rejected the offer because it did not come close to covering all of their damage.

“I guess we’ll get a lawyer next. I don’t know,” Alexander Wilding said.

Ironically, no one on the cul-de-sac will see any direct benefit from the sewer project that has caused them so much grief. Their homes are on septic systems and can’t be hooked directly into the new main line because the pressure involved would cause sewage to flow into their houses instead of out.

“We can’t even use it,” Alexander Wilding said.

Hickey and her neighbors believe their damage is largely the result of the ground shifting and settling around the new sewer main.

She said the water line between her house and the street broke twice in about a month earlier this year, after Las Vegas Paving had finished its work. The first time it happened, the construction company sent a crew out to fix it. The second time, she had it repaired by someone else who told her the pipe looked like it had been pulled apart.

She said several of her neighbors have also suffered broken water lines in recent months. “Each one of us has had at least one outrageous water bill,” Hickey said.

And her troubles might not be over. While showing some of her damage to a reporter on Monday, she noticed a stream of water flowing down her driveway and out to the freshly paved street. It was a new leak, bubbling up from beneath her house right about where her water line comes in from Oquendo.

Contact Henry Brean at hbrean@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0350. Follow @RefriedBrean on Twitter.

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