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Details of Wolfeboro's suit against engineering firm revealed

by Thomas Beeler
Editor of The Granite State News
April 19, 2012
WOLFEBORO — This newspaper has obtained a copy of the suit that the Town of Wolfeboro filed against the engineering firm Wright-Pierce of Topsham, Maine in U.S. District Court on April 2.

The 25-page document, prepared by Attorneys Daniel M. Deschenes and Seth M. Pasakarnis of Concord law firm of Hinckley, Allen & Snyder LLP, presents in 31 numbered paragraphs the history of Wolfeboro's efforts to develop an alternate disposal system for treated effluent and Wright-Pierce's role in identifying and testing options and making a final recommendation for the site where Rapid Infiltration Basins (RIBs) would be installed to absorb an average of 600,000 gallons per day in any 12-month period.

For at least 30 years, up until 2005, the town had relied on storing treated effluent in an unlined lagoon and disposing of the effluent from May to October by spraying the liquid over a 100-acre site. In 2003 and 2004 overland flows of excess effluent were observed and on April 19, 2005 the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (NHDES) issued an order that imposed a moratorium on additional hookups to the sewer system and directed the town to come up with a plan to address issues identified with the wastewater treatment plant and to expand capacity by Dec. 31, 2005.

This order led to the selection on Nov. 11, 2005 of Wright-Pierce (WP) as "the Engineer of Record to assist Wolfeboro in responding to and complying with the Administrative Order [of April 19, 2005]." WP then was awarded a series of purchase orders and five contracts to write the required Wastewater Treatment and Disposal Management Plan, identify and evaluate potential sites for the RIBs, recommend a final site and perform "any and all engineering incidental thereto," and design the RIB system. WP performed the work and the town issued two bonds totaling $2,337,000 for the design and construction of sewer improvements, including the services of Wright-Pierce.

When the first three RIBs were completed and brought online on March 3, 2009, a series of "events" occurred that indicated that the installed RIBs were not able to handle the 600,000 gallons per day average, and two additional RIBs were constructed. Despite the two additional basins, the site was unable to handle the flow and the town has had to restart spray disposal on part of the original 100-acre site. In November 2011 a hydrotechnical study by another engineering firm, S.W. Cole, uncovered water table issues that explained the disposal limits of the site.

Suit complaints

The April 2 suit charges that "WP failed to fully and adequately investigate potential sites" and "failed to perform a site hydrogeological investigation of the specific site (Wolf-1A) which WP identified and recommend (sic) be acquired and used by Wolfeboro as the site for a rapid infiltration system for its effluent disposal."

The suit further charges "WP represented that Wolf-1A was able to handle the disposal of of more than 600,000 gallons a day of treated effluent as a monthly average for twelve (12) months per year. In fact, the site is unable to handle that amount of treated effluent. The current capacity is approximately 340,000 gallons per day based on subsequent reports."

The suit accuses WP of failing to recognize potential slope stability and seepage issues and then failing to perform "a thorough geotechnical analysis on the selected site." Specific charges are made about the technical inadequacies of WP's testing and modeling. The most damning accusation is that "at the time WP recommended the purchase of Wolf-1A for use as the site of Wolfeboro's new rapid infiltration disposal system, WP possessed considerable evidence that the 600,000 gallons per day loading rate might not be attainable and that, at a minimum, additional investigation was necessary to confirm the attainable loading rate, evaluate the potential geotechnical issues and determine whether additional capacity should be sought elsewhere."

The suit ends with four "counts" or charges against WP.

Count I is "Professional Negligence," for failing to investigate existing site conditions and to design a system that met the requirements of the town and NHDES.

Count II is "Breach of Contract."

Count III is "Negligent Misrepresentation."

Count IV is "Breach of Warranty."

The town claims it sustained significant damages as a result of these four charges. The suit itself does not seek a specific amount but asks that the town be awarded damages "in the amount to be determined at trial."

WP has not yet filed an answer to the suit and no trial date has been set as of press time.

In the meantime Wolfeboro sewer users and residents should not fear a crisis in effluent disposal. Public Works Director Dave Ford reports that the combination of the existing RIBs at the reduced flow of 340,000 gallons per day and the partially-reactivated spray fields are handling the flow and keeping the town in compliance with its NHDES permit. The town continues its efforts to reduce inflow and infiltration of ground water and storm water into the sewers – thus reducing both inflow and the amount of effluent to be disposed – and to improve the wastewater treatment plant.

The disposal system works, but at a higher cost than the WP plan promised – which is a major reason for the suit.

Martin Lord & Osman
Varney Smith
Brewster Academy
Brewster Academy
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