Contractor's water line mistake 5 years ago costs county $112,000


A strip of land originally valued at $936 by Harford County in 1987 wound up costing more than $112,000.

Before the county could purchase the land, needed to widen Thomas Run Road, contractors mistakenly installed a water line across the lawn of Daniel and Michelle Weber.

Now, nearly five years after the Webers filed suit against the county, they will receive $112,000 and the cost of landscaping and tree replacement as part of an out-of-court settlement reached Tuesday.

The settlement, which came a week before a second scheduled trial to determine additional damages, provided that Harford County pay the Webers $105,000, Crouse Construction Co. Inc. pay $1,000 and Tudor Manor Partnership pay $6,000. The county must pay for landscaping and tree replacement after roadwork is completed.

Since the incident, a second developer, Rachuba Enterprises Inc., has filed for bankruptcy and no longer can be considered liable for damages.

The county needed the strip of land, 30 feet by 290 feet, along Thomas Run Road about a half-mile north of Fountain Green Road, to improve access and utility service to the Village of Thomas Run and the Tudor Manor developments, said Jefferson Blomquist, Harford's deputy county attorney.

"The county's initial offer probably was too low," said Mr. Blomquist.

The Webers thought so, too, and were shocked the morning of Sept. 11, 1987, when they awakened to the grinding of a backhoe digging up their lawn.

"The county was trying to negotiate with the Webers," said Mr. Blomquist. "While our original offer was too low, they never really had come back to say what they thought was a reasonable offer at first."

Mr. Blomquist said the developers for both subdivisions were required to make road improvements, and the county was seeking to purchase the land.

"Unfortunately, a contractor went in without the county's authority or knowledge and installed the water line within two days," said Mr. Blomquist. "The work was done on the wrong side of the road. I think the Webers felt that was a slap in their face, and negotiations broke off."

Mr. Blomquist said a county inspector had failed to realize the error and didn't stop the work immediately. He said the county filed condemnation proceedings in the spring of 1988 to secure the easement.

Meanwhile, the Webers sued the county for its part in illegally seizing their property and for trespassing to install the water line.

In September 1990, the county insisted on splitting the suit into ,, two parts, said Thomas Beach, attorney for the Webers. In the condemnation portion, a jury awarded $121,000 to the Webers.

But the county appealed the ruling and has yet to pay the Webers any money. A state appeals court said it wouldn't hear the case until after a ruling on the trespass suit, which was to come to trial Tuesday.

Mr. Beach said the dollar amount of the settlement was not out of line with other similar settlements in Harford County.

"They say a good settlement is one in which neither party is ecstatic," he said. "I can't say the Webers are ecstatic with this settlement, and I don't think the county is ecstatic with it."

"I haven't seen the paperwork on the settlement yet," said Mr. Weber. "We're just glad it's finally over."

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