Vista Ridge homeowners frustrated after fire hydrant deluge
Kate Arvidson was on her way to the airport when she received an alarming call from her husband Jason.
On Saturday, Feb. 2, Arvidson, a Lake Oswego resident, was returning from California where she was making arrangements for a family member who had recently passed away.
She answered the phone to find Jason flustered and in a panic: A fire hydrant in front of their condo at the Vista Ridge Townhomes in the Mountain Park neighborhood had separated from its feeder line and water was everywhere.
"My daughter Freya, who was two-and-a-half at the time, ran to the front door and pointed out there was muddy water coming under the door," Arvidson said. "When it got into the garage, it seeped into the walls and was coming out of the drywall and electrical sockets in the basement. I was scared for my daughter and husband."
At 12:05 p.m. Jason called 911 while Arvidson phoned the community emergency hotline. A crew from the Lake Oswego Fire Department soon arrived, but found they couldn't turn off the water and would need the assistance of the City of Lake Oswego water department.
According to Public Works Director Anthony Hooper, an on-call water department employee was in the area en route to a funeral and arrived within 20 minutes. The water was shut off by 12:53.
In the 48 minutes between the call to 911 and the water being shut off, thousands of gallons of water spewed out of the broken water line underground and into the driveways of eight condo owners at Vista Ridge. The water then seeped into the homes themselves.
"This type of break is extremely rare. It released a significant amount of water," Hooper said. "Water Superintendent Joel Kuhnke said he'd never seen something like this before in his career."
While the Arvidsons took the brunt of the water, their neighbor Deb Mrowka suffered the worst damage.
"The garage had more than a foot of water and my master bedroom had about 4-5 inches standing," Mrowka said. "It was releasing more than a thousand gallons of muddy water each minute."
The water seeped down the walls of Mrowka's garage and into her basement. All the flooring besides the tile in the bathroom was ruined. The drywall was soaked. Her utility closet was flooded and her washer-dryer plug was spewing water. Mud came out of her bathroom's sinks and drains.
"It was a mess," she said.
The Vista Ridge Condo Association covered the initial emergency mitigation costs — to remove water and mud up to 6 inches deep and the sopping carpets — and began opening the soaked walls; Service Master's crew shoveled out the mud, vacuumed up the water and installed dehumidifiers in units that ran 24-7 for weeks, drying out the worst hit townhomes. But the condo association's insurance company also denied the claim, so the owners' condo reserve funds were used to pay all the immediate mitigation costs, totaling more than $30,000. Individual owners were also out of pocket for replacement of walls, floors, carpeting, destroyed furniture, clothing and other goods.
In California, Arvidson's flight had been delayed, leaving her stuck at the airport waiting for any news of how her home fared against the deluge of water. She called her father to go check in on her family while she waited for news.
"It was terrifying not knowing what was going on. I felt helpless sitting in an airport while my husband and daughter watched our house become ruined," she said.
Arvidson and her family filed a claim with their insurance, Travelers, and were put up in a hotel. But just a few days later their insurance came back and said they wouldn't be paying for any of the damage due to their policy's language around "surface water" and the fire hydrant pipe not being a part of their property.
Of those eight homeowners, the only person whose insurance claim wasn't rejected was Mrowka.
"Our insurance directed us to take up a claim against the city," Arvidson said, "saying that it was the City of Lake Oswego's responsibility."
The Arvidsons did just that, but soon the City of Lake Oswego's insurer, Citycounty Insurance Services (CIS), came back and said the City wasn't at fault, and all they would pay for was mitigation of the water — which was already taken care of by the Vista Ridge HOA.
According to Arvidson, CIS told her the City could only be held responsible if they had known about a malfunction and willingly neglected it.
"For us to prove that in a court would take a lot of money and effort bringing in witnesses and experts. It would be a really big deal and we might even still lose," Arvidson said.
The Arvidsons were forced to move back into their condo without repairing it. They ripped up the damaged carpets and flooring, and covered the bare studs with mats.
Eventually they started to worry about mold growth and decided to bite the bullet getting a second mortgage on their house to fund the repairs out of pocket. In all, it cost about $26,000 to get their home back to a healthy, livable state, but damage still remains. Mrowka's insurance shelled out around $55,000 to repair her home and put her and her granddaughter up in a rental for three months. In total, the residents of Vista Ridge estimate their damage at around $125,000.
"It's been a huge headache," Mrowka said. "I really think the City is at fault, and they should pay for all mitigation, as well as all the damages caused to all the condos affected."
According to Mrowka, she filed a tort claim, but like Arvidson, was informed the Citywould only pay for the water mitigation which, again, was already covered by the condo association.
Marlene Belkins, chair of the Vista Ridge Condo Association, said that residents recently held a special meeting to discuss the best way to deal with additional expenses that have put stress on the condo association as well.
"It helps to come together so we all understand what we are going through. Overall, we all feel extremely frustrated by the lack of response from the City of Lake Oswego," Belkins said.
According to residents, the condo association's's attorney has submitted an appeal to both the CIS's intial positon that the City of Lake Oswego is not responsible for the City-owned and operated fire hydrant, as well as the condo association's insurance company that denied the claim for remediation expense reimbursement.
Lake Oswego City Attorney David Powell said Tuesday that CIS has communicated with the condo association's attorney in regards to their appeal and will review the claims once again.
"CIS is taking a second look at this through its discussions with the (condo association)," Powell said. "If a revised approach results from those discussions, that approach would most likely be applied to the other individual claims as well."
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