By Mike Dunn
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A massive water main break in South Philadelphia nearly two years ago (see related stories) still has residents up in arms over their efforts to get restitution from the city. They’re particularly upset that Peco, the electric utility, is also making a claim, which, the residents say, takes money away from them.
At a City Council hearing on Friday, South Philadelphia residents voiced frustration that they can’t recover full damages from the July 22, 2012 water main break because the city’s liability is capped in total at $500,000, and because Peco wants some of that money for damages its underground facilities suffered.
Among those fuming at the situation was Marla Rosenberg (top photo).
“Peco management should be ashamed, for putting their bottom line ahead of people, and their customers, who have suffered such substantial losses of living essentials,” she said.
Peco officials put their losses at $869,000. Bill Sullivan, an official with Peco’s parent company, Exelon, told councilmembers that if the utility doesn’t put in a claim to recover some of that, the full costs will be borne by Peco customers.
“It is our responsibility to pursue any damages, and do that on behalf of all of our customers,” he said.
And Peco external affairs manager Mellanie Lassiter said Peco will not drop the claim:
“That would set a precedent. If we were to do it for this case, we would have to do it for every other case (of damages suffered by the utility) that Peco has.”
That did little to satisfy the residents who feel their compensation from the city will eventually be much smaller because of Peco’s claim. Rosenberg said once Peco, lawyers, and the special master overseeing the case take their shares, little will be left.
“After all is said and done, how much will be left to compensate the victims? We have Peco, we have the master, we have administrative costs. Whatever is coming out of this pot — what is going to be left for us?” she asked.
City officials say that ninety-seven claims, totaling $1.7 million, have been filed over the incident. Peco’s claim was for $750,000. Homeowners’ insurance in most cases would not cover the damage, according to the city, because of the exclusion in most policies for flood damage.
The city’s deputy finance director, Barry Scott, testified that without the state’s $500,000 cap on city liability, the city would likely need to raise taxes to cover the cost of claims for such incidents.