The Ritzville Adams County Journal - Eastern Adams County's Only Independent Voice Since 1887

By Katie Teachout
The Journal 

City council accepts settlement on Well No. 9

 

Last updated 2/11/2021 at 9:51am



RITZVILLE – City council members unanimously agreed to accept an offer to settle with contractor Kirby Hunt in a lawsuit before the State of Washington over the Well No. 9 pump station. The $750,000 cash settlement will be paid to the City of Ritzville water fund.

In the settlement, the city agreed to allow Kirby Hunt to retain the non-working pump originally installed in 2015, and that this settlement resolves all claims which remain or could have been made in the pending lawsuit.

“The city has been embroiled for several years in litigation related to the installation of the Well 9 pump system,” Attorney Milt Rolland said. “Kirby Hunt was awarded the contract in 2014, and promised to deliver a working Well 9 pump station to us, and almost succeeded. The pump station worked on operation and it worked on start-up, but it did not work on shut-down.”

Rolland said Kirby Hunt sent representatives from Layne Pump, who installed the pump, to tell the council in August of 2015 that “it was just one of those things that sometimes happen,” and to turn the pump on and off to break it in.

“Luckily the city did not accept that advice,” Rolland said, adding the pump was instead removed and taken to the Layne Pump offices in Pasco, where it has since remained.

Rolland said the city then put the job out for bid privately, with PumpTech in Moses Lake finally getting the pump online in 2019.

“It took a long time for the city to get the water it had contracted for in 2014,” Rolland said, adding the city then sued the contractor and their insurers.

Rolland said when the city met in mediation with the group several months ago, it was disclosed for the first time that the insurance owned by the contractor and the installer would not pay for some or all of the city’s harm.

“Eventually, with the aid of the mediator, we got the insurance company to put together an offer for $750,000 aid to the city of Ritzville,” Rolland said. “In return, the city would do two things. One, permit Kirby Hunt to retain the old non-working pump, which apparently Kirby Hunt can use some of the parts from; and two, the city would promise not to sue anybody else that was already a part of the deal. Anyone else already in the lawsuit would not have any claims made against them by the City of Ritzville, and that promise would be mutual; that no one else would seek any compensation from the City of Ritzville over the 2014-15 disaster.”

Public Works Director Dave Breazeale asked if relinquishing the pump included giving up rights to any other items left at Layne Pump, and Rolland said it included everything but the building it was housed in.

“I had to learn during this process to call the whole kit and caboodle ‘the pump.’ Which was counter-intuitive to me,” Rolland said. “But there we are.”

Council member Mark Weigand called for the vote at that point, and Mayor Gary Cook asked Rolland to explain a little more “how difficult a journey this has been.”

Rolland said one thing that stood out for him was “the absolute creativity of people who have money at stake,” adding the contractor’s lawyers attempted to place blame on the city’s contracted engineering firm, claiming Varella and Associates had designed the pump.

“Which they absolutely had not,” Rolland said. “The city was buying an engineered piece of equipment that was installed by Kirby Hunt’s contractor.”

Rolland said he was pleased with the amount of the settlement, and attempting to seek a greater amount could result in a greater loss of time and money.

“We have to assume even if we win, at the end of an expensive and lengthy lawsuit — which thanks to the Coronavirus, it’s likely to last another year — we would have to sue the insurance company to get paid. The maximum recovery for the City of Ritzville is $1 million, which could cost another $200,000 to get,” Rolland said. “So we think this settlement offer should be accepted.”

Council member Dennis Chamberlain made the motion to accept the offer, and Council member Dede Boyer seconded the motion.

Author Bio

Katie Teachout, Editor

Katie Teachout is the editor of The Ritzville Adams County Journal. Previously, she worked as a reporter at The Omak-Okanogan County Chronicle, the Oroville Gazette-Tribune, Northern Kittitas County Tribune and the Methow Valley News. She is a graduate of Western Washington University.

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