Columbia lake dredging sparks muddy lawsuit

Mobile Dredging demands $1 million

December 09, 2010|By Larry Carson, The Baltimore Sun

The Pennsylvania dredging company hired to remove more than three decades' worth of sediment from Columbia's Lake Elkhorn has filed a $1 million lawsuit against the Columbia Association, disputing the town's calculations of how much mud has been sucked off the bottom of the 37-acre lake.

The suit accuses the association, a nonprofit that runs the planned town, of breach of contract and failing to pay for work performed.

Mobile Dredging and Pumping of Chester, Pa., filed the suit Nov. 29 in Howard County Circuit Court even as the company continued working on the project, which began in late 2009. Work stopped this week because of freezing weather, but company president Jerry Vetter said work could resume if temperatures rise before a planned winter hiatus. He declined to comment on the suit.

The Columbia Association, which owns and operates all of Columbia's recreational facilities and open space, is in the midst of a nearly $15 million dredging of all three of its lakes, with a different firm performing each job.

According to the suit, the giant homeowners' association failed to properly do the sediment surveys required before the work began and failed to determine how the mud has shifted during the work. Therefore, the company alleges that the association has no accurate way to measure how much mud has been removed. Further, the suit accused Columbia Association of refusing to discuss the issue or to respond beyond its refusal to pay for some of the work.

Mobile's measurements, the suit said, show "that Mobile has in fact removed more material than Columbia Association believed even existed." The firm asked for $1,006,000, plus court costs and attorney's fees.

Cynthia Coyle, chairwoman of the association's board, denied that the association has refused to discuss the dispute, saying that "discussion has been going on on a regular basis." A spokeswoman said the association had still not been served with the suit by the close of business Thursday.

The association board in August approved increasing the cost of the Elkhorn project by $1.3 million — to $6.5 million — after a consultant told the board that much more sediment than predicted had washed into the lake from heavy storms since an early survey taken in 2006. The job — which was designed to remove sediment only from the most heavily silted areas at either end and from a small pond near the lake's source — was supposed to end this month but has been extended into next spring.

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