Faulty pipeline is hazard, Howard lawsuit claims


A water line in Elkridge that already has ruptured three times presents "a serious safety hazard" for area residents because it is defective and could explode with the force of a bomb, Howard County maintains in a lawsuit filed yesterday.

The two-mile-long pipeline, installed in the mid-1970s, transmits water under pressure of 150 pounds per square inch along portions of southbound Interstate 95, Elibank Road and Montgomery Road.

"Investigation of the pipe has revealed life-threatening design and manufacturing defects," the county's suit maintained. "These defects have led to weakening and cracking of the pipe in specific areas along the pipeline."

The failure of a line operating under 150 pounds of pressure "can result in a rupture of such force and violence that it is similar to the explosion of a bomb, causing serious damage to persons and property," the suit said.

"The length of the pipeline passes within yards of churches, residences, planned subdivisions and high-tension electrical wire support towers," the county noted, adding that a rupture is an "immediate threat."

The line has already ruptured three times, on July 1, 1988, Sept. 23, 1989, and June 22 of this year. Those ruptures caused no injuries but did pose major problems for the county's water delivery system, the suit said.

When the county announced those ruptures, there was no mention of the potential safety hazards described in yesterday's suit. James Irvin, the county's public works director, said the county does not plan to install any warning signs about the dangers posed by the pipeline. "There is no way to keep people away from the major roadways," he said.

He added that the county is regularly inspecting the line and has replaced several sections. The county also is designing a replacement pipe, which should be completed next year

at a cost of up to $8.8 million.

The 36-inch pipe consists of a steel cylinder with a concrete core. The steel cylinder is wrapped with wire under tension and encased in mortar.

The county's suit said the 1988 rupture of the line opened a crater next to Montgomery Road and flooded the street, causing a three-day interruption of water service.

The 1989 break occurred 80 feet west of southbound I-95 and "only the weight of the earth covering the pipe averted a catastrophic burst," the suit said. The break caused a two-day interruption of water service.

The break in June also occurred along I-95 and resulted in a three-day interruption of service. About 4 million gallons of water gushed 30 to 50 feet in the air, destroying an embankment and carving a path "100 yards long and 20 yards wide through brush and woods, uprooting and destroying trees up to 6 inches in diameter," the suit said.

The suit seeks damages of $45 million from the line's designers and manufacturers or their successor companies; $10 million from the contractor who laid the reinforced concrete pipe; and $539,500 and $755,970 from the bonding companies insuring the 1974 and 1975 water line projects.

Named as defendants are two corporations that subsequently have acquired interests in manufacturers that supplied the pipe to the county. They are Madison Management Group Inc. of Chicago and Price Brothers Co. of Dayton, Ohio.

Also named as defendants were GHA Lock Joint Inc. of Dallas; Lisbon-Madeira Ltd., a contractor based in Wheaton; and two bonding companies, Federal Insurance Co. of Warren, N.J., and Maryland Casualty Co. of Baltimore.

Bradley W. Evers, a spokesman for Price Brothers, said he had "no official comment" until he read the suit, except to say he "was very much surprised because we have supplied Howard County with pipeline -- none of which is defective. They are suing us as a successor company."

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