The NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters are proud to be selected as a winner of the 2017 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award for our comprehensive coverage of the crumbling foundations problem plaguing eastern Connecticut.
Every year, about a dozen news stories and films across the United States are honored with a duPont for the strength of their reporting, storytelling and impact in the public interest. The winning pieces are selected by the duPont jury from hundreds of entries vetted by a board of screeners. The awards are presented at Columbia University’s Low Library in a ceremony hosted by some of the country’s leading broadcast journalists.
The Troubleshooters have devoted hundreds of hours over more than 18 months to the issue of crumbling foundations in eastern Connecticut. In that time we have conducted extensive research, conducted dozens of interviews with homeowners, local leaders, elected officials and construction and engineering experts.
In July 2015, we broke the story about dozens of homeowners in Hartford, Tolland and Windham Counties who discovered their concrete foundations are deteriorating. The homes with faulty basements were all built between the early 1980s and the early 2000s and most began to show signs of deterioration between ten and 20 years after construction.
The Troubleshooters investigation was the catalyst for the State of Connecticut to launch its own multi-agency probe into the cause and scope of the problem. In a series of initial reports, the Troubleshooters reported pyrrhotite, a naturally-occurring iron sulfide mineral, as the likely root of the foundation issues. When exposed to air and water, the mineral begins to oxidize or rust which pushes on the concrete from the inside and ultimately causes it to crack and deteriorate. In the fall of 2016, a scientific study ordered by the state came to the same conclusion the Troubleshooters had reported.
The Troubleshooters also interviewed a senior manager at the concrete company at the center of the state’s investigation, the John J Mottes Company. The company believes that the problem with the foundations is caused by faulty installation, rather than any defect with its product. They did voluntarily agree in May 2016, to cease production of concrete for residential construction until at least June of 2017, while the state conducted its investigation.
Construction experts say the foundation issues cannot be repaired; all of the concrete must be replaced at a cost of $100,000 and up. In addition, few homeowners have insurance policies which cover the slow deterioration of their concrete foundation. As a result, several hundred homeowners currently find themselves in a dire financial position.
In recent months, the Troubleshooters have broken several other developments with the story, including the rollout of a state program in conjunction with the insurance industry to provide more than $50 million to homeowners to fix their foundations. Only three insurers came forward to participate in the program, and as a result it's currently in a state of limbo. In another attempt to find funding, Governor Malloy appealed to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) twice in 2016, only to be rebuffed both times.
The Troubleshooters have followed closely the process of local and state leaders sharing information with the struggling homeowners as they try to devise a financial solution to repair the foundations. The problem has begun to impact towns across eastern Connecticut, as many of the impacted homeowners have appealed to their local municipalities for temporary relief in the form of a reduction in their property tax assessment. As a result the tax base in many of towns is gradually shrinking, and local leaders fear there may be a domino effect on town services. The real estate market in the affected region has also taken a hit. Now more than 18 months since the Troubleshooters brought the situation to light, the problem is widely acknowledged, and many potential buyers are requesting proof that homes do not have the foundation issue.
At this point, state and local leaders are working together to craft a financial solution in the form of a bill to be presented to the state legislature early in 2017. The goal is to access funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and other sources to begin to heal the problem across eastern Connecticut. According to the Capital Region Council of Governments (CRCOG), there are currently nearly six hundred homeowners in 37 different cities and towns who have informed either their local town or a state agency that they have identified the foundation problem. Most construction experts agree that because of the gradual nature of the concrete deterioration, ultimately thousands of Connecticut homeowners will suffer the same fate.