This story has been updated to include remarks from Aquarion director of communications, Peter Fazekas.
On Monday morning many downtown Greenwich residents woke up to discover they had no water. Not a great way to start the week, but water was restored within a couple hours.
But there is much more to the story. On Anderson Road, Vera and Mirko Rancic woke up to a sound Vera described as like very heavy rain or the idling engine of a large truck. Moments later water surged into their house.
On May 19, 2020, Vera and Mirko Rancics’ home at 5 Anderson Rd, across the street from Aquarion’s newly completed substation (behind Julian Curtiss School), was flooded in similar fashion. Hundreds of thousands of gallons of water rushed onto their property and the house became an island. The couple have spent a year dealing with the expensive aftermath, out-of-pocket.
They said there was a gap in coverage. Their insurance company claimed a water exclusion. They said neither Aquarion nor the town took responsibility.
The Rancics’, in their 70s, have been dealing with the aftermath ever since.
Their son Steve, an attorney in New York, said his father was a retired electrician, and that both his parents were Croatian immigrants. They purchased their home in 2009.
“My parents worked very hard all their lives. A big chunk of their savings was washed away last May. And nobody was there to make them whole. The insurance company incorrectly interpreted the water exclusion,” he said.
“Aquarion is profiting from operating our utilities, yet my family has been swept aside,” Steve said. “And it’s happened twice in 11 months, he added. Rushing water is devastating to a home.”
On Monday, as dirty brown water filled their nearly 1 acre property, submerging Mirko’s mini van and creeping up the back wall of the house, Vera and Mirko said they’d lived at 5 Anderson Rd for 11 years and never had a drop of water in either their basement or sub basement until after the substation was completed.
“It’s almost like a tsunami,” Vera said. “That’s how it feels. You want to stop it, but you can’t.”
“The water company and the town have both ignored us,” Mirko said. “No one is taking responsibility.”
In April 2016, the Board of Selectmen voted in favor of Municipal Improvement status for an easement onto Town property for the water company’s new sub station. In late June 2016 Aquarion’s contractor began removing trees.
In June 2017, Eversource Energy announced on it reached an agreement to acquire Aquarion Water Company for an enterprise value of $1.675 billion, comprised of $880 million in cash and $795 million of assumed Aquarion debt.
The new water substation project was completed in August 2017. It replaced one built in late 1970s. Aquarion offered to replace dozens of town trees on a one-for-one basis. They also paid Greenwich $310,000 for the permanent easement on town property. The new underground concrete structure is 20′ x 50′.
Toward the end of the project, the sidewalk was replaced, granite curbing added, and the road was repaved.
“In 11 years, our basement and sub basement were bone dry,” Mirko said, as he shined a flashlight on the water down his basement steps Monday morning. The 2,400 sq ft lower level was finished with two bedrooms, laundry, living area, dining area, two bathrooms, and French doors that opened onto a flagstone patio and expansive back yard. Below that is 2,000 sq ft sub basement, also flooded.
Since last May’s flood, the Rancics have paid tens of thousands of dollars out-of-pocket on everything from an attorney, to engineers to architects. And there was $50,000 to a remediation company for cleaning, pumping water and removing sheetrock. They haven’t been able to do laundry and have been confined to living on one level of the house.
They’ve paid to salvage their furnace and hot water heater.
Mirko’s mini van was submerged in water last May. It meant he had to pay to rent a car while his vehicle was being salvaged.
Again, on Monday, it sat submerged in brown water.
“There is something wrong with that substation,” Steve said. “When (the flood) first happened last May they were doing routine maintenance from 9:00pm to 5:00am and downgraded the water pressure to do the work. When they upgraded the pressure, I think that’s when the water burst. It was around 5:00am.”
“And now my parents have had two catastrophic events surrounding the maintenance of the system,” he added.
Standing on the back porch of the Rancics’ house, overlooking their nearly one acre of land, all that was visible from the brown water was the tops of their patio table and chairs. A garbage can floated at the far end of the property, adjacent to Quarry Knoll.
The Rancics said the foundation of their house was already cracked from the initial flood and they feared the house might be condemned.
“It’s a disaster,” Mirko said. “The water company said, ‘It’s not our fault.’ They turned their back on us. They don’t care. They don’t respond.”
“Most people’s wealth is in their homes,” Steve said. “If the presumption is the insurance company isn’t going to cover it and the private utility makes it exceedingly difficult to be made whole, it’s financially devastating,” he added. “It’s a major issue. Our infrastructure is crumbling even in a town as wealthy as Greenwich. I’m shocked.”
While the damage to the Rancics’ home is devastating, the impact of the event went further.
A Greenwich Fire Dept engine had been sucked into the crater where water had coursed down the hill on Anderson Rd.
The road was closed and crews arrived to excavate the pavement and free the fire truck.
On site was State Rep Steve Meskers, who said he had come to the Rancic’s home last year after the first flood.
“I’d been helping to try to resolve this without litigation,”he said.
“But there seems to be a dereliction of responsibility between Aquarion and the homeowners. No one will take responsibility. You couldn’t ask for a more model family. They are immigrants to the US. They worked hard. They educated their children in public schools, and now as they reach retirement age, they’re being robbed of their future.”
“Through no fault of their own, they’ve been abandoned by the system and it’s morally and ethically reprehensible,” Meskers continued, adding, “I’ll do everything in my power to bring justice and resolution. I’m not finished fighting.”
Meskers said he wondered about the integrity of the house’s foundation. “It was cracked and now you add thousands of gallons of pressure on a cracked foundation? They already had 2x6s to support the second floor. Are they going to be allowed to stay?”
Meskers added that the cost of the incident went beyond the Rancics. “You have an impact on tax payers. The road is destroyed, and there is the fire truck situation.”
Greenwich First Selectman Fred Camillo, who was on his way to the Rancics’ home along with Fire Dept Chief McHugh, texted a comment saying, “This family has suffered significant losses on multiple occasions and both Representative Meskers and I have communicated with Aquarion. We were given assurances that this problem would be taken care of and that the problem would be addressed so that it does not happen again.”
The Rancics, accompanied by their daughter Ivana Monday morning, said they hadn’t processed the latest turn of events.
Ivana said she asked someone from Aquarion about pumping out the basement, but was told there was nowhere to put the water.
Aquarion’s Director of Corporate Communications Peter Fazekas returned a call for comment Monday afternoon, saying the water company was working on repairs, and that as of 2:30pm just two customers remained without water: the Rancics and one of their neighbors. He said he anticipated those customers’ water would be restored later Monday afternoon.
He added that repaving of the road should be completed by Monday evening.
“They’re ripping up the pavement,” he said. “The crew is pumping water into the sewer basin. They’re also working on cleaning up (the Rancics’) driveway.”
“I believe they (the Rancics) are already in touch with our company. Ultimately it will be going through our claim service,” he added. “They’ll file a claim and it will go through our company’s review process.”
This story will be updated as more information becomes available.