Council hearing on water-main-break compensation

Posted: June 08, 2014

Nearly two years after Barbara Failer's basement was flooded with water three feet deep from a broken city main, she is still emotional about her losses.

"I had kept one trunk with memorabilia, childhood toys, letters from my grandmother. . . . They all drowned," Failer said Friday, her voice breaking.

She was one of several people who testified Friday at a special City Council committee hearing. It was held to consider ways of compensating residents and businesses in Southwest Center City who were hit hard when a 48-inch water main broke July 22, 2012, at 22d and Bainbridge Streets. Claims have totaled $1.9 million - far surpassing the city's $500,000 liability cap.

"Residents fear they will collect pennies on the dollar," Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, who represents the area, said Friday.

During the 21/2-hour hearing, residents told horror stories - of mouse infestations after the flooding, of spending thousands on hotel stays and new appliances. They lamented Peco's $870,000 claim, which stands to reduce everyone else's slice of the city's $500,000 pie.

Peco is willing to negotiate a lower claim, said one of its lawyers, Todd Eisenberg. The utility says the alternative is raising rates.

Two bills are pending in Harrisburg to increase the city's liability cap, but neither looks likely to win passage anytime soon.

Benjamin Picker, lawyer for two claimants, said he believed the City Charter allowed Council to enact legislation releasing the city from its $500,000 liability cap. Johnson's legislative aide, Steve Cobb, said that idea would have to be studied.

Administration officials warned that uncapping the payouts in such cases would push costs so high the city, as Cecelia Kenney of the risk-management division testified, "would likely have to raise taxes."



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