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Fresh claims filed against Schenectady over landslide

Fresh claims filed against Schenectady over landslide

The owner said the extensive damage was caused to his building following the slide
Fresh claims filed against Schenectady over landslide
The owner of this house at 223 Nott Terrace has filed a claim against the city.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

SCHENECTADY -- The owner of the building that got hit by the late-January landslide has filed two notices of claim against the city.

The claims, which are a required precursor for lawsuits against municipalities, detail events that happened in the wake of the Jan. 28 landslide.

In one claim, Joseph Gotwals, the owner of 223 Nott Terrace, said the city was “negligent in not taking timely action to isolate the reported water line leakage on Barney Street.”

Gotwals said in the claim that the landslide caused him to lose rental income for 10 apartment units. The other notice of claim accuses the city of failing to shut off water service to his building after the slide. That caused the water pipes to freeze and break, flooding two of his apartments, according to the claim.

“The Water Department had not secured the water service to the building as directed and reported complete on January 28, 2018,” the claim states.

There was damage to the floor tiles in the second-floor apartment, but the first-floor apartment sustained the most damage: Ceiling tiles in the hallway, living room and kitchen were damaged, according to the claim. The water also damaged the apartment’s insulation and warped the floorboards in the kitchen.

City Corporation Counsel Carl Falotico said there were “no new allegations” in the claim that accuses the city of failing to isolate the Barney Street leak.

“[Gotwals] said we didn’t turn the water off quickly enough," Falotico said. “As soon as works noticed it, they went and turned the water off.”

Falotico refused to comment on the second claim.

Both claims were filed on April 27, just two days after City Engineer Chris Wallin told The Daily Gazette the landslide was caused by a broken water service line at 11 Barney St.

Wallin cited a geotechnical report prepared by the Dente Group out of Watervliet, which showed water from the broken service line to the Barney Street home, which was directly up the slope from 223 Nott Terrace, seeped into the ground and flowed out of the hillside.

The report also revealed there was a water service line break at 6 Daggett Terrace, located 150 feet from 11 Barney St., well before the landslide occurred. City officials though said they do not believe that leak contributed to the slide.

The water service to 6 Daggett Terrace was shut off the day after the slide occurred.

Both tenants and city officials said they found water in the basement of 223 Nott Terrace after the slide.

City officials previously said they were alerted to the broken water line at the top of the hill and shut off water service to 11 Barney St. the Friday before the landslide occurred. They claim they were not liable for the slide because the water service line is the responsibility of the property owner.

Schenectady County property records show that 11 Barney St. is owned by Bronx residents Vidyawattie and Yashmenie Devi Abraja. The city said it has been trying to make contact with them but has not been able to do so.

Falotico previously said he doesn't think the city is liable because it did nothing to add to the problem that caused the slide. He also said the city wasn’t negligent in failing to notify residents at the bottom of the hill about the danger because the water and sewer maintenance crews didn’t have reason to believe the slope would fail.

The landslide occurred during the early morning hours of Jan. 28, sending mud and debris into the back of 223 Nott Terrace.

After the slide, the city declared a state of emergency and demolished three structures that city officials deemed unstable. Those structures were 11 and 15 Barney St., as well as the garage behind 2 Daggett Terrace. They were razed at a cost of $73,000.

Gotwals’ claim joins four others filed against the city since the slide.

The first was filed by Reco Ross, a former tenant of Gotwals. Another was filed by Ross's nephew, Iquann Cornish, who is still recovering from injuries he suffered in the slide, which trapped him for nearly an hour before firefighters were able to extricate him from the debris.

Cornish was airlifted to Albany Medical Center. Ross and Cornish’s 17-year-old cousin were also taken to the hospital to be treated for injuries and were released a few days later.

Cornish has also filed a notice of claim against the county because of its involvement in the Schenectady County Multi-Jurisdictional Hazard Mitigation Plan, a report published in 2007.

That plan includes a map that indicates the ridge below Barney Street is susceptible to landslides. The same ridge experienced a landslide in 1996, which claimed one life, and another slide in 2004.

Cornish claimed both the city and county failed to make sure the hill was stable before the landslide. Ross said the city was negligent in not addressing the water service line break in a timely manner. The owners of 225 Nott Terrace, David and Bruce Baker, have also filed a similar notice of claim against the city.

The same accusation was contained in a notice of claim filed by the owner of 15 Barney St., Josh Gonzalez. He also claimed the city failed to do a proper inspection of his home or notify him of their decision to raze it before demolishing the building.

Falotico has previously said that, because the building was under a state of emergency, the city didn’t need to contact property owners before demolishing their buildings.

None of the claims filed have detailed how much the claimants are seeking in damages.

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