Waitsfield taxpayers got a raw deal in the town’s settlement with VTrans over a 2014 break in the town’s water main that was caused by a VTrans contractor who was given the wrong plans by VTrans.
The water main break meant system users were without water for over 30 hours, including restaurants and businesses dependent on that water as well as residents whose homes were without water. Having no water for 30 hours caused real losses to the affected businesses and they will never be made whole. Nor, it seems, will the town.
The water main break meant that the town immediately spent $28,436 for emergency water and then a temporary fix. The town subsequently spent $8,660 to plan and permit a final solution and $76,423 to construct the solution.
Throughout that time, the town continued to work with VTrans to determine how the wrong plans were given to the agency’s contractor. VTrans, a state agency whose purpose is to take care of our roads and keep our roadways safe, was intransigent about accepting responsibility for the incident and making the town whole.
The town was forced to file lawsuits against the state, its contractor and subcontractor, seeking resolution and some recompense of its costs. Enter attorneys’ fees to the tune of $79,073.
Repeat: Attorneys’ fees were $79,073. The town settled the case after two full days of mediation for $80,000. The unwillingness of VTrans to accept responsibility for the actions of its contractors required the town to take it to court and spend almost as much on attorneys as it received in settlement.
With legal fees, it cost the town $209,548 and has saddled the town with another debt that will have to be paid down over the next seven and a half years.
Accidents happen and VTrans workers and their contractors are only human after all. But while the state can use all of its might to avoid blame, actual humans who make mistakes are held to task and are held accountable legally and financially.
It’s a bitter pill to swallow that our state would fail abysmally in taking its contractors to task and taking responsibility for its own (and their) errors.