Crumbling Foundations: Homeowners Hope for Strength in Numbers

Potentially hundreds of homeowners concerned about the growing crisis of failing concrete basement walls in the northeast corner of the state will meet for the first time on Saturday.

The meeting is organized by Ellington attorney Brenda Draghi. Draghi represents dozens of homeowners suffering with the problem who’ve had their coverage claims denied by insurance companies.

“The feeling of fellowship is what I’m hoping to get out of it,” says Draghi. “I think just having a venue where people can ask questions, can talk, can feel somewhat comforted in the presence of people working on the problems and also others who have the problems.”

Dragji says the overriding sentiment from her clients is they feel “helpless”. She expects a coalition of people will come out of it to better spread information to the growing number of affected homeowners.

The Troubleshooters first exposed the problem in July. It is affecting hundreds of residents from East Hartford to Ashford for homes, they report, were built between the early 1980’s to the late 1990’s.

Homeowner after homeowner in the months since said the cracks begin a decade or more after the foundation was placed.

They say insurance companies deny any claims for coverage with out of pocket costs to replace going into the hundreds of thousands.

Several developments have come out of the series of stories. It was learned a former State Rep. Michael Cardin (D-Tolland) asked the Attorney General’s office to investigate the problem back in 2002 when there were only a handful of affected homes.

Former State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal responded in September saying “if I had known then what we know now, I would have been all over it.”

Senator Chris Murphy (D) and U.S. Representative Joseph Courtney (D-2nd) tell the Troubleshooters they’re working behind the scenes to try and identify and potential federal solutions to the problems.

“This goes right to the core of people’s economic security,” said Courtney in August. “It’s an important issue.”

Governor Dannel Malloy asked the private and public sector to carefully monitor their foundations east of Connecticut River immediately after the original July 21st investigation aired. The following week, he called on the Attorney General’s office to assist the Department of Consumer Protection in a civil demand investigation into whether any violations of the Connecticut Unfair Trade Act took place when the affected homes were built in the 1980’s and 1990’s.

“I think we need to get to the heart of this,” Malloy told NBC Connecticut reporter George Colli in an exclusive interview.

The Department of Consumer Protection released a warning to home inspectors and realtors to be aware of the signs of the problem.

The Governor’s office says a state task force is being formed to study the problem.

Experts and court records allege a chemical reaction caused by a mineral found in the concrete aggregate is to blame. Research done in Canada, where thousands of homeowners from one region of Quebec are dealing with similar issues, suggests, over time, the mineral oxidizes causing the concrete to expand and break through the concrete. The unique spider cracking gets progressively worse, causing homes to lift up off the foundation and eventually be at risk of failing.

According to homeowners, contractors, and public officials, the only known link between the affected homes reported to date is the concrete was supplied by the Stafford Springs-based JJ Mottes company. In a September interview, a company spokesman said the catastrophic failures were caused by faulty installation, not their product. JJ Mottes spokesperson John Patton stated they believe too much water was used in the original pour.

Patton is also an officer at Becker’s Quarry in West Willington, where he says the company has retrieved their aggregate for decades.

He said the company hasn’t changed the way they get their aggregate even after the first reported problem in the 1990’s.

In a statement released Friday, Patton continued to deny issues stem from the product they provide and say the cause is from installer error, not a chemical reaction.

“JJ Mottes believes those suffering from crumbling foundations deserve answers and help with solutions that can only come from a comprehensive investigation by the state,” Patton said in a statement.

Department of Consumer Protection Commissioner Jonathan Harris says the state is “moving forward aggressively” with their investigation. He is expected to tell the audience in Vernon on Saturday that a concrete expert from UConn is contracted to conduct a scientific investigation into the cause with preliminary results due in the Spring.

For homeowners desperately seeking answers, they hope getting everyone in the same room will give them strength in numbers. Tim Heim, who will attend the meeting with neighbors from six on his Willington street, thinks it’ll send a string message.

“It’s going show the state of Connecticut that this problem is real and its serious,” said Heim.

The open meeting is scheduled for 10am Saturday in Vernon at the Vernon Middle School at 777 Hartford Turnpike.

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