Met Council resolves property damage claims

The Metropolitan Council offered at least one cash settlement and one denial of property damage claims following a sewer replacement project last year that rattled homes.

Eight homeowners along Sunset Boulevard and France Avenue filed damage claims for issues like cracked stucco and cracked interior walls, and all of their claims were initially denied by the contractor. Residents said they were advised to file claims with their own homeowners insurance, which they worried would increase their premiums or cause them to lose insurance.

Instead, residents sought help from the Cedar-Isles-Dean Neighborhood Association (CIDNA) and State Sen. Scott Dibble, after which the Met Council hired an independent adjuster and a structural engineer to investigate the claims.

Resident Gary Lange said investigators discovered that on at least one occasion, seismographs recorded vibration data strong enough to damage his property, a finding that countered the Council’s initial statements. Lange was granted a settlement for damage to his home.

Another resident, Abby Ruben, said her claim was denied, and further review determined that damage in her home wasn’t connected to construction. Ruben disagrees. There weren’t any cracks in the plaster before the construction project, she said.

Philip Walljasper, director of risk management and claims for the Met Council, said the Council would step up communication efforts in the future. He declined to disclose the disposition of each claim.

“Going forward, the Council will be more involved with claims related to construction projects to make sure there is proper and timely communication with property owners, whether that communication comes from the Council or its contractors,” he said in a statement. “I want to make sure the property owner understands the process and is kept apprised of the claim’s status, as I believe a lack of communication contributed to the situation on the Cedar Lake Area Sewer Improvement Project.”

The CIDNA board passed a resolution in December saying the situation does not “bode well” for the Met Council’s pending Southwest Light Rail project, and called on the Met Council to review its policy in resolving property damage disputes.

A January letter from the Met Council to CIDNA said staff had indeed reviewed their policy.

“We appreciate your communication regarding the frustration that some homeowners are experiencing,” stated a letter from Pat Born, Met Council regional administrator. “This has caused us to re?examine our process and our involvement with not only our contractors, but also the community. Continuing with future projects, our goal is to ensure that claims are promptly and appropriately investigated to determine whether or not they may be related to the project.”

Born said future investigations may include independent experts, depending on the facts of the case.

CIDNA Chair Craig Westgate called Southwest LRT construction the “elephant in the room,” and said he’s glad the policy for damage claims appears to be changing.

“I’m thrilled,” he said.