U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal is calling for a task force made up of local, state and federal officials and agencies to combat the growing crisis of crumbling foundations in the northeast corner of Connecticut.
Blumenthal made the plea while touring a neighborhood in Willington, where several homeowners are dealing with failing concrete walls.
"A picture is worth a thousand words, and this picture is absolutely appalling and astonishing," said Blumenthal. "I want to fight for these folks because they clearly have foundations made of diseased, decaying, decrepit and defective concrete, and that’s outrageous."
While this was the first time the senior senator saw firsthand the problem affecting hundreds of homeowners, it was not the first time he was confronted with the issue.
The first reported issue of a failing foundation was in the mid 1990s. In 2002, with the number of affected homes still in its infancy, former State Rep. Michael Cardin, a Democrat from Tolland, called on the Department of Consumer Protection and then-Attorney General Blumenthal to investigate.
In April 2003, affected homeowners met with state legislators, concrete experts and several state agencies – including representatives of the attorney general’s office – but no investigations or public warnings came out of it.
"Whatever was told to representatives of the Department of Consumer Protection or the insurance agency at the time is a fair subject for investigation," Blumenthal said when Troubleshooter George Colli asked if the state dropped the ball. "Whether they were misled by any of these parties that now should be held accountable. That’s really my goal. To help these homeowners with very severe problems that are coming to light now."
State Sen. Tony Guglielmo also attended that 2003 meeting. He represents 13 towns in eastern Connecticut, nearly all of them with homeowners now affected by failing concrete.
"We were told by all of the state officials that there was no remedy and nobody knew the extent of the problem," said Guglielmo. "People thought, I’m sure, it was poor workmanship."
Guglielmo alerted state leaders to the problem again in recent years. In an email to the lieutenant governor sent in August 2014, Guglielmo said he had heard of the problem before but thought they were isolated cases. He said the state may need to set up a fund to assist the homeowners.
"I think this task force has got to get up and running pretty quick," said Guglielmo. "The money needs to be put into the fund quickly and consistently because, I think, the problem could be that big."
In a series of reports starting in July, the NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters revealed that some believe an iron sulfide mineral called pyrrhotite is to blame. Research suggests the pyrrhotite oxidizes over time, and the chemical reaction leads to cracking and eventual failure.
Homeowners, structural engineers, contractors and town building officials all say the problems stem from concrete supplied by only one company: J.J. Mottes Company of Stafford Springs. They say the problems are with cement poured between the early 1980s through the late 1990s.
Guglielmo said he’s known the family that owns J.J. Mottes for a long time but they’ve never talked to him about the issue.
"I don’t think they ever knew it was a problem," said Guglielmo. "Once it cropped up, it’s not something they would want to talk to about outside their family and any legal help they're going to bring in."
In the company's first response since the original investigation, J.J. Mottes spokesman John Patton said in a statement:
"For decades the Joseph J. Mottes Company has consistently produced ready mix concrete meeting all state and industry standards. We welcome the formation of a task force to investigate the installation practices of building foundations, and would gladly participate in the process."
Blumenthal believes it’s time the company comes forward with any information it may have to help the state understand the scope of the problem.
"This company has a legal obligation, more important a moral obligation, to be absolutely forthcoming, upfront and transparent about what they knew and when they knew it, because the state’s inability and failure to act may be because of faulty information given to the DCP or other agencies," said Blumenthal.
Blumenthal said he hopes to convene a meeting of federal, state and local officials and agencies in the coming weeks.
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.