EVERETT — When Dale Wilton got an early morning call about a broken pipe at work, he thought, “It can’t be that big of a deal.”
Then he arrived and found a geyser shooting out of the sidewalk in front of Central Welding Supply Co., the business he runs in the 2500 block of Hewitt Avenue.
The water swamped the company’s 10,000-square-foot building, destroying merchandise in the warehouse and rendering the retail store unusable for a month. It also flooded the receiving bays at the back of Lowe’s Home Improvement store and the first floor of nearby Everett Downtown Storage.
Since then, eight people and businesses have filed claims with the city after property was damaged in the March 31 water main break that unleashed around a million gallons of water.
They include Central Welding, Lowe’s Home Improvement, the Snohomish County PUD and several people who rented units at Everett Downtown Storage.
Officials are still sorting through the claims and it’s not clear yet how much the city will pay out. This isn’t the first time the city has to pay out for plumbing problems. It likely won’t be the last.
A total of 272 claims were filed last year. As of Friday, the city wasn’t able to provide specific numbers on how many of the claims had something to do with water or sewer or the total amount paid out in claims for 2010.
The city is still paying for a spring storm last June that overwhelmed the city’s sewer system in the north end of town, sending raw sewage and rainwater burbling into basements.
As of the beginning of May, the city has paid out $719,910 on some of the 72 claims filed for the spring storm. Fifty of those claims are now settled.
That was an unusual event caused by a freak storm, said Dave Davis, public works director.
Pipe problems, on the other hand, are a more common event for cities, he said. Everett has about a dozen broken water mains a year, most of them not as dramatic as the one in March. That’s normal for a city Everett’s size, he said.
“Water main breaks occur periodically throughout the year,” Davis said. “This one just happened to be a fairly large one in a commercial area.”
In this case, a joint on a 12-inch cast iron pipe settled and the top of a spigot popped off, he said. The pipe was 70 years old. Pipes, depending on what they are made of and where they’re located, can last 75 years — and far longer.
The break occurred early in the morning, which delayed the amount of time it took for public works crews to arrive on scene and shut down water in the area.
It happened directly in front of Central Welding Supply where Wilton serves as president. The business took the brunt of the spill, which filled offices with water up to 2 feet deep.
Although Central Welding likely will be reimbursed for lost merchandise, supplies, furniture and repairs, the event still caused considerable disruption. Workers had no offices for a month and retail customers had to be served out of the back of the warehouse. Such disruption could have put a smaller company out of business, Wilton said.
So far, he said he’s been impressed with how well the city has treated the company. Firefighters showed up the day of the water break and stayed hours to help mop up the mess.
The city’s claims adjuster met with the company soon after so they could get clean-up and repairs started.
The public works director said the city feels an obligation to make things right when the city is at fault but that officials are also mindful of public dollars. Every reimbursement has to be justified, which means the process can sometimes be lengthy.
“We understand the impact to the business and homeowners and we try to lessen the impacts as quickly as we can,” he said.
Davis said the city only reimburses people for the depreciated amount of lost items — not the full cost to replace them. That, he said, makes some people grumpy.
Wilton said he’s reserving judgment until the city actually writes the checks — no one has paid the contractors fixing his business yet.
“Everyone keeps telling me it’s going to be handled,” he said.
Reporter Debra Smith: 425-339-3197; firstname.lastname@example.org.