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Email shows disagreement between contractor, county over water main fix

Avondale Estates Decatur Metro ATL

Email shows disagreement between contractor, county over water main fix

DeKalb County Georgia. Source: Google Maps.
DeKalb County Georgia. Source: Google Maps.

DeKalb County Georgia. Source: Google Maps.

This story has been updated. 

An email exchange forwarded to Decaturish shows that the County Department of Watershed Management was arguing with a contractor over blame for the failure to fix a broken water main.

The contractor gave an interview regarding the emails, and described the Department of Watershed Management as lacking equipment and people with the necessary experience to fix the problem.

The water main break occurred Thursday, July 23, when a mower hit a fire hydrant on a 48-inch main at Henderson Mill and Evans roads. Though the main has been fixed, the county is still under a boil water advisory due to the accident. Thousands of residents experienced little or no water pressure Thursday through Sunday, and some restaurants have had to limit their menus or close early.

The email exchange, which began early Sunday morning, July 26, shows that Alessandro Salvo, CEO of county contractor GS Construction Inc, contacted interim director of Watershed Management Charles Lambert at 4:05 a.m.

“At approximately 3 a.m. we located the shut off valve for the hydrant,” Salvo wrote. “The hydrant was shut off and the problem is over. DeKalb County is back in business.”

But Lambert wasn’t satisfied with the contractor’s performance. He sent the following email reply on Sunday at 6:04 p.m.

Mr. Salvo,

As part of our after action review I need to have the following concerns addressed:

– On day one your crew showed up with little equipment to do the job such as pumps, trench boxes, etc. which hampered the speed of the repair and safety of the staff

– A repair method of making a fix on the fire hydrant was chosen and failed since equipment was not there to get down to the valve which would have resolved this day one

– Day 2 saw pumps that could not keep up with the water flow which required to be changed out to larger pumps along with an excavator and trench boxes to get to the depth of the line

As it stands now, if the correct equipment had been brought to the job the situation would have been resolved then. The repair method chosen failed so this failure and corrective action is on the contractor to resolve.

– Charles

Salvo fired back within the hour, and added several additional recipients including two county commissioners, Jeff Rader and Nancy Jester, and reporters from WSB-TV.

Mr. Lambert,

I hope this is some kind of joke. You are responsible to compensate GS Construction fully for saving your bacon.

On day one we were only supposed to advise County crews on the shutdown. Shon called us and told us that all equipment was on site. All we had to do was show up and advise. The inadequate equipment was on the part of the County. Pumps that didn’t work and equipment that was too small.  No shoring equipment or other necessary tools to make the fix.

What repair method are you referring to? Nothing failed. You were not even there so how do you know something failed?

I have everything documented. The failure was on the part of the County for insisting on turning on the water before we could find the shut off valve.

We then mobilized the adequate men & equipment on a SATURDAY within hours. The problem could have been resolved by noon except someone insisted on bringing the line back up to pressure with no way to stop the leak. Causing an even bigger mess than was necessary.

Day 2 was a smashing success. Extra pumps were brought in at the behest of Mr. Williams and were not even needed when the pressure was reduced. They sat on the side idle.

I am baffled as to how you can make those statements. You will compensate us for every second we were on site, every penny we spent plus a premium for emergency response.  As it stands right now DeKalb County owes GS Construction Inc. HUGE. This feeble attempt to blame us for any part of the problem is the most dishonest thing I have ever heard. I will be contacting your superiors first thing Monday morning. I have never been so insulted in my life.  I have been saying since Friday night that I KNEW DeKalb County would try and blame me for the problem and not pay GS Construction.  Everyone on site swore they would not let that happen.  Every time I help DeKalb County the answer from the County is to punch us in the face. I assure you that will not happen.

Lambert did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Salvo told Decaturish that the hydrant was one of a kind, and not in a good way.

“I’ve been calling it the magic hydrant all weekend,” Salvo said. “There’s no other hydrant in DeKalb that could cause this problem.”

In addition to sitting on a 48-inch main, the hydrant “sits in the absolute low point in DeKalb,” Salvo said. He also said the county has other transmission mains that could’ve rerouted the water, but they were shut off.

Salvo said when the county said the problem was “fixed” on Saturday, it actually wasn’t. He said his company had been called in to advise county crews on Friday, but crews did not actually locate the shut off valve and turn it off before reattaching the hydrant.

“There was no fix, there was no cap, there was no anything,” Salvo said. “The county just turned the water back on.”

He said his crews were called in to fix the problem Saturday and were able to locate and turn-off the shut-off valve. It was not easy to find, he said. The county kept dropping the pressure to allow crews to locate it, something that didn’t occur the first time the county lowered the pressure.

“The valve box was the biggest problem when the county workers got there,” Salvo said. “They couldn’t get down to the valve. The box was 15 feet deep. Now nobody knew where this valve was. We had to find it in the dark. They had to bring the pressure down low.”

Salvo said the hydrant was hit during the day on July 23 by someone using a bush hog to mow the corner. But he suspects the hydrant had been struck before, based on how easily it shattered.

“I think that thing had been struck several times before,” Salvo said. “The flange was shattered into five pieces. This is a substantial thick piece of steel.”

The biggest issue, according to Salvo, was the lack of experience among the Watershed Department employees.

“They’ve got to get experienced people back into the county and in charge,” Salvo said. “In 2010 a whole bunch of people with experience took early retirement. Everybody that knew what was going on retired.”

Commissioner Rader also mentioned the retirement program during a follow-up interview about the water main problem.

“I think that for a long time our water system sort of ran on autopilot and like many systems in DeKalb county, we were dependent on the expansive experience and expertise of longtime managers,” Rader said.