Coweta sues Shell Oil over water pipes

Thu, 10/30/2008 - 2:40pm
By: Ben Nelms

Coweta County Water and Sewerage Authority (CCWSA) and Coweta County filed suit against Shell Oil Company Oct. 23 for $25 million and damages over faulty water pipes that have cost the county millions to repair. The suit alleges breach of contract, negligence, product liability, fraud and violations of the Georgia Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act over the misrepresentation, marketing and sale of Blu-Max pipe, which uses a polybutylene resin manufactured by Shell.

The pipes were installed in Coweta County in the 1980s and 1990s and were used for service lines that run from the water main to the customer’s meter, according to county Public Information Officer Patricia Palmer. The pipes were installed during a period of great growth for the water department, she said. From 1987-1997 water customers grew from about 1,000 to about 14,000.

“The county authorized the use of these pipes based on the information we received from Shell, the extruders who manufactured the pipe, the suppliers who sold the pipe and industry leaders such as the American Water Works Association (AWWA),” said County Administrator Theron Gay. “We were never told of any performance issues with this product, never told that our resource, our product, might be soaking into the ground.”

Palmer said the pipes were reportedly easy to install and resistant to deterioration and corrosion, along with being flexible and tougher than metal with a 50-year lifespan. But that proved not to be the case. She noted that Shell has been sued dozens of times over misrepresentations related to the properties of pipe containing Polybutylene resins. Shell no longer manufactures the product.

For Coweta County, the problems began manifesting significantly in 2006. Between 2005 and 2006, Coweta County experienced a dramatic change in water loss. In 2005 the CCWSA documented a 10.84 percent water “loss,” Palmer said, indicating the difference between the water that was piped out and the water that was accounted for in customers’ meters. This was a reasonable amount because the industry standard is 15-18 percent, she said.

But in 2006, the water loss increased dramatically to 37.87 percent and in 2007, it increased again to 48.13 percent. Given the extreme level of loss and the drought that Coweta and Georgia were experiencing, the CCWSA began an aggressive effort to identify and repair leaks to lessen water loss.

“The more we repair, the more failures we find,” said CCWSA General Manager Ellis Cadenhead. “Of our 24,500 customers, we expect as many as 15,000 of those to have been affected by this defective product.”

CCWSA Board Chairman Neal Shepard said countless millions have been spent repairing and replacing the pipes. With the challenges we face in water conservation today and our responsibility to our rate payers, this suit was the right thing to do, said Shepard.

Approximately $6 million of the $27 million CCWSA 2007 bond money has been used to replace Shell’s Blu-Max pipe.

Coweta officials have requested that the trial be held in Fulton County State Court.

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Submitted by Tammy S on Thu, 10/30/2008 - 5:40pm.

I am glad that CCWSA is standing up to a company that they feel like has taken advantage of them. I guess that would mean that they would support me when I bring to light that they take advantage of their customers such as myself!

Between Sept and Oct of 2007, my water bill doubled from $30 to $60 per month. I just assumed that it had to do with the drought. I was not doing anything that was increasing my water usage, in fact, on family member moved out during that period and there were only two people in the home. No outside watering, no washing cars, three loads of laundry per week, dishwasher only used two times per week, etc... Then, several months later, my garbage collection company put my garbage can in a place that it was never put before. I stepped into the grass and my foot sank into the ground! I called CCWSA and told them that there was a leak at the road. The tech that came out told me that the leak had been caused by their valve/meter and he replaced it and told me that he would instruct the office to adjust my bill. (Now keep in mind that the person that came to read my meter every month saw that the meter box was FULL of water and the valve/meter was leaking and said nothing to anyone!) As soon as the replacement was made, my bill went back to $30 per month. I called their office several times to get my adjustment. THEY GAVE ME A $12.00 CREDIT AND SAID THAT IS ALL THAT THEY WILL DO!!!

Maybe I should take my problem to the press like they are doing! We will see...

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