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Cottonwood Heights Homeowners Denied Flooding Damage Claims

COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS, Utah – Homeowners with tens of thousands of dollars in damage were told the city’s insurance has denied their claims.

KSL 5 News learned the city now has three claims stemming from flood damage that happened in August.

From their kitchen, Rex Leetham and Tracey Leetham looked at the pile of bills piling up to restore their basement.

The Leethams said the insurance company for Cottonwood Heights, Traveler’s, assessed damages at their home at more than $91,000 – not including collectibles, like their vinyl records.

“It’s very stressful, very expensive and not something we planned for,” Rex Leetham said.

They said flooding from an overwhelmed storm drain in front of their home on August 8 is to blame.

“Every day we get a door shut in our face it seemed like,” Tracey Leetham said.

The Leethams said they received a call from the insurance adjuster last weekend denying their claim and offering a settlement instead, as part of a customer service courtesy.

“She said well we normally have through the trust $5,000 that we can offer but since you have had so much damage, we are going to offer you $7,000,” Rex Leetham said. “Their offer was $7,000 to release liability from the city.”

Three miles down the road, John McEntire’s basement had similar damage after a storm drain under the ground failed, shooting water into the air, which rushed downhill into his backyard and basement. The rupture left a giant hole which has since been covered by the city.

“It’s not right,” McEntire said.

McEntire said his claim was denied on Monday and he was offered a $12,000 settlement. Damages to his home were also estimated in the $90,000-range.

“(The adjuster) said well, the city doesn’t have the resources nor the money to check every pipe in the entire city to see what pipe could fail and because they don’t have the resources, the manpower, the money, then they feel like it’s not their problem,” McEntire said.

During a city council meeting on August 27 Cottonwood Heights City Council members told both Leetham and McEntire they were looking into the matter.

Friday, Cottonwood Heights City Manager Tim Tingey declined to comment, saying he can’t speak on the case because it is still open.

“The claims are still open, they haven’t been resolved,” Tingey said. “So there hasn’t been any transaction with funding.”

In the meantime, Leetham was concerned this could happen again. His home sits on what used to be a tree lot that often flooded.

“It’s not an empty lot now, it’s my home and we were not told of that water problem,” Leetham said.

McEntire was also concerned, saying another portion of the storm drain pipe failed a few years back.

“That pipe failed three or four years ago one section over and they replaced that section but they didn’t continue looking to see if the other pipes were rotting away and failing,” said McEntire. “It was the very next section that failed and flooded my basement.”

KSL 5’s investigation found the city doesn’t have specifications on the storm drain system.

In response to a GRAMA request, officials from the city recorder’s office said in part:

“No responsive records were located. In explanation the drainage system in question was constructed some time before the City’s incorporation (formation) in January 2005. The city has no additional records concerning that original design or construction, nor concerning any modifications to that system since 2005.”

“We know where we have stormwater systems throughout the city but as far as the specifications of lines and the actual design elements, there is some of that information that we don’t’ have because it was installed before we were incorporated as a city,” Tingey said. “We know where the systems are. We know capacity elements of the systems.”

Tingey also said the city conducts yearly check-ups of the storm drains.

“We’re doing it regularly throughout the year a surface evaluation where we are constantly cleaning the streets checking the grates on the surface and determining if there are issues or problems,” Tingey said. “On the underground elements, we are looking at that through cameras seeing if there are any issues related to build-up or block-up.”

For now, both homeowners hoped for the best.

“It’s in the back of your mind when it rains hard,” Leetham said.

City officials said they’re considering doing a stormwater master plan study with a full-scale assessment of the whole city. The matter will be discussed during next week’s City Council Meeting on Tuesday.