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PennDOT sued by Woodlands

By Steve Mocarsky, Times Leader Staff Writer 10/20/2008

WILKES-BARRE - The Woodlands Inn & Resort is suing the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and a state contractor for more than $1 million in flooding damage from Laurel Run Creek that an engineer attributes to substandard work and design done on a culvert opening.

According to a complaint filed Friday in Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas, PennDOT and CECO Associates Inc. - a consulting and engineering services firm in Scranton - in 1999 began evaluating the replacement of an existing arch culvert that allowed Laurel Run Creek to pass under state Route 315 in an area adjacent to The Woodlands in Plains Township.

The Woodlands has continuously operated in the same location on Route 315 since 1969 and, until Nov. 16, 2006, had never sustained any flooding or water damage as a result of the rising waters of the creek, which borders the property, the complaint notes.

The culvert replacement was done in conjunction with reconstruction work on 315. A new box culvert was designed by the defendants and replaced the arch culvert. All work had been completed sometime before a rainstorm on Nov. 16, 2006.

During and after that storm, water from Laurel Run Creek backed up at the new culvert, overflowed the banks of the creek and flowed onto The Woodlands property and into various structures, causing significant damage to buildings, personal property, land, facilities and secondary structures, according to the suit.

The situation caused a loss of income for the resort as well as extra expenses, all of which resulted in damages in excess of $1 million, the complaint states.

Woodlands attorneys Joseph E. Kluger of Scranton and Paul R. Bartolacci of Philadelphia maintain that CECO and the state were negligent and careless in several ways.

They failed to properly analyze the watershed area, used improper water flow calculations in the construction and design of the new culvert, designed the culvert with improper slopes and dimensions and failed to recognize and consider other culverts along Route 315 that were significantly larger than the new culvert, the attorneys wrote.

The defendants also used improper historical weather and storm data in calculating culvert design and construction, used improper survey data relating to the location of The Woodlands, and failed to properly prepare, clean and dredge the stream bed in conjunction with the new culvert construction, they wrote.

Also filed was a document by Roger Wuggles, a licensed professional engineer and an associate professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Lafayette College.

Wuggles states, based on the information he reviewed, there is "a reasonable probability that the care, skill or knowledge exercised or exhibited in the design work" of the culvert "fell outside acceptable professional standards, and that conduct was a cause of the flooding sustained by The Woodlands."

©Times Leader 2008