City files suit against drilling company after U.S. 2 sinkhole

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The City of Columbia Falls has filed suit in Flathead County District Court against a contractor that drilled a water line under U.S. Highway 2 that ultimately caused a sinkhole that the city had to pay to get fixed.

In August 2011 Badger Directional Drilling of Kalispell bored a 12-inch water line from the south side of the highway near Super 1 Foods to the north side of the highway that would serve the Greenwood Assisted Living Center.

About four years later, in February 2015, it was discovered that the water line had been bored through a storm drain under the highway. The storm drain, in essence, failed and the highway developed a sinkhole that was big enough that one lane of the road was closed down while it was repaired.

The City of Kalispell helped Columbia Falls determine the cause of the failure using a video camera that showed the boring for the water line created a hole in the storm sewer.

The city’s suit alleges that Badger owner and president, David Scott, was present at the time the video of the drain failure was taken.

According to the city’s complaint, city crews and crews from Badger then made a temporary fix of the sinkhole. The Montana Department of Transportation, in turn, then required that the water main be moved so it no longer went through the storm drain.

In its amended complaint filed in September, the city claims that Badger should have known the sewer line was there and should have taken the necessary precautions to avoid drilling through it. It also claims that Badger violated the state’s Dig Law, which is designed to protect against destruction of underground services and utilities.

The city initially filed claims with Badger’s insurance company to get reimbursed for the cost of moving the water line so it would be under, not through, the storm drain.

The city and Badger’s insurance company went back and forth for about 18 months, without resolution.

In May of this year, the city paid contractor LHC of Kalispell more than $126,000 to rebore the water main. In addition, the city paid about $48,000 in engineering fees and an additional $2,244 to the state for repairs to the highway.

Badger’s insurance company refused to pay the claim, so the city brought suit, seeking monetary damages, plus 10 percent interest. The city is seeking a jury trial in the case.

Badger has sought dismissal of the case, claiming the state, not the city, suffered the damage. But in response, the city noted it was the one that ultimately paid for the fix and is entitled to damages as a common law claim against Badger.

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