Pineville Drinking Water

$1.2 million settlement reached over contaminated drinking water

In May 2000, residents living in and around the Walden Point subdivision in
Pineville found that their drinking water had been contaminated with sewage.

On Tuesday, about 110 of those residents had their revenge in 9th Judicial
District Court in Alexandria.

Insurance companies representing the city of Pineville and Pan American
Engineers, the city's engineering firm, agreed to settle the residents'
lawsuit for $1.2 million.

That amount represents all costs and damages, including medical costs,
according to lawyers involved in the case.

All plaintiffs must agree to the settlement before money is distributed.

The city of Pineville itself does not have to contribute to the settlement,
according to attorney Jimmy Faircloth, who represented Pineville in court.

One plaintiff was not included in the settlement, as that plaintiff is
making more extensive medical claims than others who joined the consolidated
suit, Faircloth said.

A number of families are among the 110 residents benefiting from Tuesday's
settlement. For example, four of the residents may belong to the same

Faircloth said the sewage affected about 60 residences. About 35 of those
residences were in Walden Point, city officials have said.

Plaintiff Karen Bond said she's glad the suit "is almost over. It's been
three years."

Some of the plaintiffs are getting more money than others are, she said, and
the amounts depend on the amount of medical care the plaintiff needed due to
the sewage and a family's size.

Bond said she and husband, James, did not have serious medical problems due
to the sewage and were not getting much money.

The couple will not even be able to pay off their $14,000 car, she said.

Judy Boles said she and her husband declined to join the lawsuit because
they knew the contamination "was an accident, and we did not want to cause
any difficulty to the city."

"I knew the one who made the mistake was not out to harm anyone," Boles
said. "And we were not harmed" by the sewage.

Pineville Mayor Clarence Fields said he is pleased with the settlement, but
he expects it will affect the city's insurance rates. The city gets its
coverage from Coregis Insurance Co., which also was sued. Pan American
Engineers and its insurance company, Security Insurance of Hartford, were
also defendants in the case.

"The city has tried to show it is concerned about what happened. I'm
relieved. We need to move forward," the mayor said.

Fields said the city's water and sewerage department has been reorganized
since the sewage incident in order to show residents that the city has done
everything it can to "prevent anything of this magnitude happening again."

State certified city employees must now inspect every water and sewerage
connection before the city signs off on a job, he said.

Fields hopes that the last plaintiff and that plaintiff's insurance company
will come to an agreement.

The residents' water was contaminated when a city employee inadvertently
connected a business' sewerage pipe to a 6-inch water pipe.

Faircloth said sewage was forced into the water line when one of the
company's three employees or customers used the toilet.

Faircloth said the sewage was treated at a small plant before it went into
the water pipe, and it was diluted by a large amount of good water.

At the time the problem was discovered, an engineer for the city said health
risks to affected residents were "minimal" because of the chlorine the city
adds to the water.

Pineville workers tested the water after residents complained, but they
could not find anything wrong for two months, Faircloth said.

The problem was brought to city officials' attention by a resident who
noticed "white stringy matter" had clogged filters on a washing machine and
a dishwasher. The material also clogged an icemaker. The material turned out
to be toilet paper.

Other residents complained about smelly water coming from the tap.

The city ended up replacing various residents' appliances that were
contaminated, including hot water heaters.

The sewage problem put Pineville in the international spotlight for a short

The Associated Press picked up a Town Talk story about the polluted water,
which led to a Cable News Network story.

Attorney Thomas Wahlder, who filed the initial lawsuits, said he feels
"really good" about the settlement.

"The whole litigation involved complicated issues of insurance coverage," he
said, "and linking each plaintiff's illness to the particular discharge in
question. That was an issue.

"All the parties gave up a little bit to get the matter resolved. The
alternative would have been years of litigation."