Business owner says he will pursue lawsuit against New London over flooding

New London — A Jefferson Avenue business owner has filed a notice of intent to sue the city over what he claims are millions of dollars in damage to his properties caused by inadequate drainage on city streets.

Jeff Suntup blames the city for ongoing water problems and claims in his notice filed at City Hall that, while the area was already prone to flooding, it was exacerbated by work performed by the city in 2012 to accommodate stormwater runoff from the former First Hispanic Baptist Church at 35 Redden Ave.

Suntup is the owner of Anytime Fuel Oil and Bernie’s Used Cars and Towing and owns properties that include 130-134 Jefferson Ave. and 128 Jefferson Ave. He claims water runoff from Garfield Avenue has infiltrated not only his property but businesses nearby that include Ruby Glass and the Veterans of Foreign Wars property.

The force of the water during rain storms has at times dislodged storm drain grates and moved curbside vehicles in the area, one nearby homeowner said.

Suntup said the city’s failure to follow engineering plans or conduct inspections of underground pipes, despite his repeated pleas over the past decade, has led to water infiltration of his properties resulting in mold infestations, standing water and consistently damp conditions “producing unhealthy conditions in my buildings and to all of my properties.”

“There is a solution to this problem which has existed for years but the city has chosen not to do the repairs nor protect my rights. When it rains, one inch of water equals one Ocean Beach swimming pool worth of water either entering into, or under my buildings,” he said. “They’ve destroyed my property. It’s all undermined. It’s going to cost millions to remediate. Jefferson Avenue is going to collapse. They know this and refused to fix it.”

The city earlier this year installed a new drainage network on Garfield Avenue, on each side of state-owned Jefferson Avenue, to help correct problems in the area, Public Works Director Brian Sear said.

“There were some pipes on upper Garfield not operating properly,” Sear said. “There was not enough drainage capacity to handle all of the water during rainstorms.”

Along with new drainage pipes, Sear said it was discovered that two catch basins in the lower portion of Garfield Avenue were not tied into the area drainage. The city made them “active catch basins” to allow water to drain rather than flow into other places. In some areas, water was undermining asphalt, Sear said. Water is carried from the hill on Garfield Avenue, under Jefferson Avenue to the lower portion of Garfield Avenue and eventually into a culvert under the former Faria mill property.

“Our legal responsibility ... is to collect and drain stormwater on city roads. That was the scope of the efforts,” Sear said. “Any water that’s on city roads we channel and (disperse).”

Suntup said that, despite the effort, the fix was inadequate and lacked proper engineering. He called the city’s work “backyard pipe laying.” Garfield Avenue homeowner John Clark agreed with Suntup and said rains in September that once again flooded his yard prove more needs to be done.

Clark said he has been dealing with flooding issues since he moved in to the home five years ago. His home is situated at the corner of Garfield Avenue and Elm Street, and he says at one point rushing water swept through and completely wiped out plantings from his yard. Water has moved his truck from his driveway to the nearby stop sign, he says.

Clark wrote a letter to the City Council and Mayor Michael Passero in September to express his frustration. “Our property has been viewed and commented on for being well taken care of and each time it rains the flooding ruins our yard, destroying our plants,” he wrote. “This is a large factor that will negatively impact the sale of our home in the near future because it diminishes the value of our property, from a purchase perspective, and completely destroys curb appeal.”

Problems with water in the area date to about 2002, Suntup said, when the First Hispanic Baptist Church was constructed. The church is a transplant from the Fort Trumbull neighborhood. The church became the Church of the City in 2013 and sold in November for $1.2 million to the Oasis of Restoration Inc., public records show.

Suntup said he sued the church and its builder, along with another church at 134 Garfield Ave., after he began to have water coming into the rear of his buildings on Jefferson Ave. He settled out of court in 2011. He said along with recouping money for damages, the Redden Avenue church agreed to remedy the problems.

That led the First Hispanic Baptist Church to apply to the Planning and Zoning Commission in 2011 for a site plan modification to install a system to handle stormwater runoff and connect to the city’s system. Records of the meetings with the commission that followed indicate the proper drainage work had not been completed when the church was constructed.

Records show the initial application by the church was denied and a second was withdrawn. A third application, submitted in 2012, raised concerns by the state, the city’s engineer and the Planning and Zoning Commission about how the water runoff would impact other areas.

Mark Christiansen, a member of the commission in 2012, said the city took the proper steps to ensure the new plans were reviewed by the city’s contracted engineer. A plan ultimately was approved on March 15, 2012, with a host of conditions that included “plans, acceptable to the City Engineer and the Department of Public Works, for the construction of further improvements to the stormwater drainage system,” be submitted prior to construction. The city was to be responsible for the actual construction of the improvements.

Correspondences among then Public Works Director Tim Hanser, City Attorney Jeffrey Londregan and former City Planner Harry Smith, show the city accepted a $10,000 payment from the church for the city to handle those plans and future drainage improvements.

Sear said it was unclear exactly what work eventually was completed by the city at that time.

Suntup maintains the city “willfully violated their own engineered construction plans."

 g.smith@theday.com

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