Cole Construction Trial: ‘Unusual’ Soil Conditions

by | Mar 12, 2015

superior courtThe Cole Construction Trial ended its seventh day Thursday with the plaintiff’s geotechnical expert testifying about the condition of the soil at the three Sarah’s Trace properties. In particular, testimony centered on the “unusual” condition of the soil found in a soil sample from 50 Sarah’s Trace, the property owned by Chris and Susan Lamendola.

The case, being heard before Superior Court Judge Bennett Gallo, will be decided by a six-member jury. The Lamendolas, Tom Hogan and Cynthia Pelosi, and Keith and Wendy Amelotte are suing over vibrations, caused by construction of the nearby Cole Middle School between 2009 and 2011, they say damaged their homes – specifically, caused cracks in the walls, foundations and, at two of the properties, in the pools.

The plaintiffs have remained in their houses but they say the defendants – the Town of East Greenwich, the EG School District and a number of construction-related entities – were negligent.

The plaintiff’s expert, David Sykora of Exponent Engineering in Massachusetts, testified that his company conducted studies of the Lamendola and Hogan/Pelosi properties and, later, the Amelotte property, on behalf of the homeowners.

Sykora said wall and foundation cracks typically can be caused by settling and by “shrinkage” of construction materials (such as wood), but in his opinion much of the damage at the Lamendola house was caused by vibrations coming from the construction of the new school.

Project engineers and project management company representatives testified earlier that vibrations from the construction equipment – the vibratory rollers used to compact the soil, in particular – were not sufficient to cause the sort of damage claimed by the plaintiffs. They based that finding on seismic measurements taken after Chris Lamendola first complained about the vibrations in December 2009. Seismic monitors were placed at the boundary between the Lamendola and Hogan/Pelosi properties and the school property.

But Sykora’s firm took soil borings – one on each of the three properties – and it was the results of the “B2” boring on the Lamendola property that Sykora based his conclusion. Specifically, the soil was found to be “loose,” which he said could cause vibrations to carry farther than would normally be expected.

John Donovan, lawyer for defendant Manafort Brothers, questioned Sykora about the siting of the B2 boring, suggesting it was done near to the sewer main, and also questioned the methodology of that particular boring. Donovan then asked Sykora about the soil compaction method on the Lamendola house when it was built, between 1997 and 1998 – did Sykora know what method was used. Sykora said he did not.

Donovan finished his cross examination of Sykora. The engineer will return to the witness chair Friday for questions from at least one other defense lawyer. Also expected to testify Friday is someone from Manafort Brothers and plaintiff Chris Lamendola.

Earlier in the week, the plaintiffs dropped the claim that use of construction equipment was “abnormally dangerous.” Former School Committee Chairwoman Jean Ann Guliano also testified about her request to have the construction team use hand rollers on the job site after homeowners complained about the vibrations from the vibratory rollers.

When she was told that deviating from the vibratory rollers could threaten the integrity of the new school building, however, Guliano said she agreed the project needed to stay with the original specifications.

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