It only took a couple of hours to take down the small building off Water Street, the steel jaws of an excavator chewing through wood and concrete blocks with ease.
Set behind Ziggy’s ice cream shop, the building that was home to the Gourmet Exotic Jerky store was damaged beyond repair in March when the ground beneath it sank during construction of a new sewer line along Water Street.
“It was an unsafe situation. The building was teetering, so what could I do?” said Russell “Rusty” Romboldi Jr., owner of the building, Ziggy’s, and the adjoining apartment block on the corner of Chilton Street.
In all, five buildings, along with driveways, patios, and sidewalks close to the sewer excavation were damaged in March. The cost of repairs is expected to be in the millions of dollars.
While the town and the contractor, Northern Construction, spar over who is responsible for the damage and the cost overrun that doubled the project’s price to $9 million, the owners of the affected properties are seeking compensation.
“There is a lot of finger pointing going on,” Romboldi said.
Romboldi’s apartment building suffered major cracks to its foundation floor and walls. Several support columns in the basement dropped away from overhead structural beams. Drywall cracked in many of the apartments above. Several door frames were thrown out of alignment so the doors can’t close.
The seven-unit apartment building was evacuated on March 7 with tenants displaced for four days until engineers deemed it safe enough for occupancy. “I paid for hotel rooms for four nights,” Romboldi said. “What else could I do? It wasn’t my tenants’ fault.”
Ziggy’s, which was closed for the season in March, also suffered significant cracking and settling.
Next door, the Mamma Mia’s restaurant and its detached commercial kitchen (commissary) building behind it were both damaged. Foundations, walls, and floors cracked. Ceramic tiles popped off the kitchen walls. The restaurant’s rear wooden staircase to the second-floor outdoor seating area shifted so badly it had to be torn down that day.
The night before the damage was discovered, hints of trouble surfaced. A tenant in the Romboldi apartment building saw water gushing from a holding tank near the excavation. Two Mamma Mia’s employees who were closing the restaurant that night had to double check the commissary when the building’s security alarm went off for no apparent reason.
“When I heard about what happened the night before, I checked the video (from our security cameras) and couldn’t believe what I saw,” said Colene Uva, general manager of Mamma Mia’s. “One of our employees had parked on the side and I could see the crack forming and coming right up the driveway. It was incredible. I was just thankful that the earth didn’t open up and swallow her car.”
Mamma Mia’s managed to stay open throughout the ordeal, because while damage was significant, engineers deemed the structures safe to occupy. But many customers stayed away during the sewer construction earlier this year, Uva said.
“The work was right in front of our building. The noise, the shaking. And just getting down here was a nightmare. Our business was down 50 percent,” Uva said.
In addition to funds to repair the physical damage to their properties, the affected businesses are seeking compensation for lost business.
“It’s the town’s project, so the town has responsibilities. The town hired a private contractor to do the work, so the contractor has responsibilities,” said William Burke, the attorney representing both Romboldi and Mamma Mia’s.
Burke has filed a claim with Liberty Mutual, Northern Construction’s insurance carrier. He is also in discussions with the town’s legal team.
Burke said engineers hired by the property owners have assessed the damages and prepared estimates for initial repairs needed to maintain safety. But it’s premature to say what the final repair costs will be, Burke said.
“This is an ongoing phenomenon,” Burke said. “The crack gauges show there is still movement happening, so we can’t say what the cost will be until the project is completed. Right now, the damage is easily in seven figures.”
Burke said the next step in the claims process is for Liberty Mutual’s own engineering team to inspect the properties and develop its analysis of the damage, repair costs, and potential coverage. Meanwhile, the businesses are bracing for another round of construction, as the sewer project is set to resume in early January, pending resolution over the $4.5 million cost overrun.
Derek Medico of Carver, co-owner of the closed jerky story, said he was offered another location along the waterfront, but he’s staying away until the sewer project is finished. For now, Medico said, he will focus on his company’s original jerky store in Newport, RI.
Romboldi plans on rebuilding. Eventually.
“I’ll rebuild it, but only after the sewer work is done,” Romboldi said. “Why would I rebuild now when it could get damaged again?”
Michael Cohen can be reached at email@example.com.
Watch a video of the Gourmet Exotic Jerky store being demolished.
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