Wolfeboro sues engineering firm over wastewater project

Wright-Pierce, a regional engineering firm, negligently steered the town of Wolfeboro into using a wastewater disposal area that failed, costing the town more than $7 million, according to lawsuit filed last week by the town in U.S. District Court in Concord.The suit charges the firm failed to fully investigate the site despite “very clear warning signs” that it could fail, and instead urged the town to buy it because it was a “gold mine” in its ability of handling 600,000 gallons of effluent a day.Instead, subsequent reports revealed, the site could only handle a little more than half that amount — 340,000 gallons a day, the complaint alleges.A spokesperson for Wright-Pierce said the firm would not comment because it was still assessing the suit.The Maine-based firm employs 175 people in eight offices, including one in Portsmouth. It is the eighth-largest engineering firm in the state, with 17 employees and $5.5 million in annual sales, according to NHBR’s 2012 Book of Lists.Wolfeboro hired Wright-Pierce in November 2005 after the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services cited the town for wastewater treatment violations. The town was given until May 2007 to comply with federal rules.The firm recommended that the town discharge treated effluent with a rapid infiltration system, a large area of permeable soil that filters wastewater before it reaches the groundwater.After a town-wide investigation, Wright-Pierce recommended a site called “Wolf-1A.” But, according to Wolfeboro’s suit, the firm did not perform adequate analysis of the site, or it would have recognized the potential for slope stability and seepage issues.In a March 2007 evaluation, the company said it had a “high degree of confidence” in the 35-acre parcel, which the town purchased for $1 million, and commenced discharging effluent on March 3, 2009, according to the filing.The town says in its that on April 17 groundwater started coming to the surface, and three days later a “slope failure area” had developed. By June 8, “a significant sinkhole had developed along the northwest side,” according to the complaint.The town paid Wright-Pierce $1.5 million, but when the construction cost, land purchase and the expense to deal with the defects were included, the cost added up to $7.1 million, says the suit. The town won’t know the total cost of the failure until it adds up fines and penalties from DES, additional consulting fees, remediation costs and future design and construction costs — all of which it is seeking from Wright Pierce in damages.The suit charges Wright Pierce with professional negligence, breach of contract, negligent misrepresentation and breach of warranty. — BOB SANDERS/NEW HAMPSHIRE BUSINESS REVIEW

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