In the wee hours of a January morning, Mike Gould awoke to a call alerting him that a 5-foot geyser had erupted from beneath Main Street downtown.
Water had already inundated Firehouse Mercantile and threatened the same fate for Firehouse Brewing Co. next door. Gould — who spoke on behalf of the downtown brew pub at Tuesday's Public Works Committee meeting — said an emergency crew dug a nearly 10-foot hole in the thoroughfare to ultimately find that a corroded city water valve had caused the flood.
"On February 23, my friend Larry (Blote) got the same call," he said, referring to a second faulty valve that burst in front of First Stop Gun Shop & Coin at 701 Main St. "The valves were built to last 50 years and they've lasted half of that."
The businesses hired contractors to fix the problem and paid around $17,000 each. Now both businesses are asking the city to reimburse them.
But Public Works Director Terry Wolterstorff said that city ordinance requires property owners to pay for tearing up the street, fixing the valves and then repairing the resulting hole.
The committee ultimately voted 3-2 for Gould and Blote to meet with the City Attorney's Office, which will come back with a recommendation on how to move forward. Aldermen Bill Clayton and John Roberts voted against the motion.
Worried that offering leniency for the two businesses would result in other claims, Roberts cautioned the committee on paying out and warned that the move would set a precedent.
"I'm worried about what we do here and how it may affect other people coming forward on this," Roberts said, while asking that the city look into the number of past complaints.
Wolterstorff said having the city take over repairs of water lines instead of property owners would be a "game change" in terms of added cost not only to the city but ratepayers citywide.
"I'm not saying that's a bad idea, but it's a major shift in how we do business right now," Wolterstorff said.
Meanwhile, the city had expected to start replacing water valves beneath Main Street this summer. The project recently came to a halt, however, when bids came in over budget. The city has yet to decide whether to move forward after rejecting the bids.
Alderman Brad Estes said that the city had replaced the water lines and valves in 1992. Estes said that while the lines are likely fine, the valves have proven otherwise. He said the businesses shouldn't be on the hook for what is likely part of a "gross failure" of other valves.
City Attorney Joel Landeen said at the meeting that the city's insurer had already denied claims filed by the businesses. Landeen said, however, that the city could still devise a settlement.
"If we ultimately do decide to reach a settlement with these gentlemen, you're going to need to decide morally whether or not you want to do it," Landeen said while noting that potential consequences, precedents and other factors need to be considered.