The city of Bellevue will begin excavation this week to expose a section of water pipe at the center of a legal battle involving a January landslide that destroyed a Somerset home.
The excavation may take weeks, and there is no timeline on when the city’s investigation will be completed “due to the complexity of the site and event,” said Brad Harwood, Bellevue’s chief communications officer.
On the morning of Jan. 17, homeowners Barb and John Surdi awoke to the sight and sound of water gushing down their driveway after a water main behind their home broke.
John Surdi said he was driving to the parking lot of the private school behind their property when their home of over 20 years slid off its foundation with his wife and dog in it. The event forced 40 people in the area to evacuate.
In March, the Surdi family filed a claim for $5 million in damages, alleging the city was not only responsible but was also aware of the risk of its aging water infrastructure. They filed a separate lawsuit against the city in June for unspecified monetary damages.
Harwood said the city’s investigation is necessary to respond to both the claims for damages and the ongoing lawsuit.
The pipe behind the Surdi home was made of asbestos cement, a popular building material in North America between 1940 and 1980, which makes up about 10%-20% of water mains in the U.S., according to estimates by the Environmental Protection Agency and industry groups. In Bellevue, asbestos cement makes up 40% of the city’s water system.
Although the material is still used in other countries, and asbestos cement pipes can last decades without degrading, experts say the water pipes are more likely to fail catastrophically when they degrade rather than forming minor leaks.
In June, Harwood said the section of pipe that broke had no prior history of leaks or breakage, and an initial investigation showed no catastrophic break.
The city obtained consent from the Surdi family, neighbors and the private school behind the property to access the site for the excavation, Harwood said Wednesday.
John Surdi said in a text message that the family is planning to protest at City Hall over how long the case has taken.
“We’ve been very upset with the long delays the city has imposed on the Surdis,” said David Bricklin, the attorney representing the family.
Bricklin said he believes the city is liable regardless of how the pipe broke and hopes the city will move quickly to resolve the case once the pipe is examined.
Harwood declined to comment further, citing the ongoing investigation.
“We appreciate our community’s understanding and attention to safety throughout the remainder of the investigation,” he said in a statement.