Crumbling Foundations: Concrete Company Tells Its Side

A spokesman for the concrete company at the center of a state investigation is standing by its product, pointing the finger at installers for causing the crumbling foundation problem plaguing hundreds of eastern Connecticut homeowners.

J.J. Mottes secretary John Patton acknowledged there’s an issue with concrete failing in the northeast corner of the state, but disagreed with allegations that the cause is a chemical reaction in Mottes' concrete brought on by a mineral found in the stone where the company gets its concrete aggregate.

"You’re trying to nail it down to one particular issue," Patton told the NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters. "I can tell you that there’s dozens of reasons why foundations fail and none of them have anything to do with concrete."

Some believe pyrrhotite, an iron sulfide mineral found in Becker’s Quarry in West Willington, is to blame for the catastrophic failure of the foundations. Patton acknowledged the mineral is likely in the concrete J.J. Mottes supplied from the early 1980s through the late 1990s and remains in the concrete being poured in residential, commercial, municipal and state jobs today. However, he denied it’s the source of the problem.

"Pyrrhotite could be a symptom at the end of the day. There’s a lot of issues that have to kind of line up together," said Patton, formerly first selectman of Willington. "It really is a complex issue."

Patton said he personally checked the aggregate from his competitors and found pyrrhotite in their aggregate as well. He said numerous times that other local concrete suppliers use the same aggregate as J.J. Mottes; however, when contacted by the Troubleshooters, four of the closest competitors denied they’ve ever retrieved gravel for concrete from Becker’s Quarry.

Patton cited unregulated and unchecked workmanship, specifically too much water being mixed in the concrete during installation, as causing unique cracking issues decades later.

When asked why there are no reported issues with this problem outside the J.J. Mottes service area in northeast Connecticut and Massachusetts, Patton said it’s something that needs to be investigated.

"This is why I think a task force is really warranted," he said. "They need to really look at this and look at this in a comprehensive way so that they can figure what is happening."

Despite Patton’s assertions that concrete from other companies also have the problem, not one other company's concrete has been reported to NBC Connecticut since the Troubleshooters first exposed the problem affecting homeowners in July.

The investigation found hundreds of foundations, maybe more, have failed over the last 20 years. Experts, public officials and homeowners allege the common link is that all were placed using J.J. Mottes Company-supplied concrete.

Patton, whose wife Diane owns the company, said it’s the installers who worked fast and loose during the busy building boom of the 1980s that is causing the foundations to crumble.

"There were no cellphones. There was no tweets or text messages. You called in the morning and said, 'I need a truck here at this particular time,'" said Patton. "And if you got there and they weren’t ready, then those trucks might wait and that’s one of the things that really shouldn’t happen."

Patton and experts report there is a risk that concrete will harden too much to install correctly if it’s not poured within 90 minutes of being mixed.

Patton could not explain why no issues have been reported after 1998. He said the company continues to make concrete the same way, up to state and national standards.

When asked if it’s possible the issue could be impacting the region for decades to come because nothing has changed in how the company mixes its concrete, Patton responded by calling on a state task force to figure it out.

"You need to have people look at this that are experts in their field," Patton said of the state task force. "We’re happy to participate that. We think that these homeowners need answers. They deserve answers."

Patton cited a single court judgment from 2003 that found his company not liable for providing faulty concrete as evidence to support his case, but acknowledged the company never looked into pyrrhotite as being a potential cause until recently, despite experts testifying in court to the problem at least as far back as 2010.

However, Patton didn’t deny that some, even a majority, of the crumbling foundations could be comprised of J.J. Mottes supplied concrete because of its "large market share."

"We absolutely sympathize with (affected homeowners) but they have to understand we don’t build foundation walls," he said. "There’s many issues that can do it, but the main thing is that they deserve the answers to the questions they're asking, which is why we support a task force and want to assist them in that."

Ed. Note: As the Troubleshooters have reported on this issue over the past year and a half, the Joseph J. Mottes Company (JJ Mottes) has evolved its response.  Click on this link to see the company’s most recent full statement to NBC Connecticut and its response to the State of Connecticut.

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