Photo by Joseph Lachance | Lower College Road needed to be repaved again after a sewer line got disconnected.

The University of Rhode Island has paid a contractor for a construction mishap that occurred during road work on Lower College Road, despite it not yet being clear who is at fault.

Over the summer, the stretch of Lower College Road that spans from Route 138 to Campus Avenue underwent upgrades. These upgrades included resurfacing and slightly realigning the roadway, as well as adding sidewalks and light poles.

The primary contractor for the project was the Cardi Corporation, which is based out of Warwick, Rhode Island. The University also worked with several other partners on the project, including the town of South Kingstown.

In early September, a house located at 29 Lower College Rd. experienced a sewage backup. The owner of the property reportedly called the University and alerted them of the issue. Ken Burke, the assistant director of Capital Projects said the University began to examine the cause of the sewage backup after receiving the property owner’s complaint.

“We basically went from the house, and when we got down to the sewer lateral we followed the line, the sewer lateral, out to Lower College Road,” Burke said. “We wanted to see where it connects. Is there a break somewhere? Is it full of roots? We hadn’t found any of that.”

Burke said that it was determined that the cause of the sewage backup was because the house’s sewage line was supposed to connect to South Kingstown’s sewer line, which runs underground along Lower College Road.

Burke said the connection of the two sewer lines did not appear on the plans that were provided to the University by the town.

“The town initially said they didn’t have proof of that sewer lateral connecting to their sewer system,” said Burke. “Then later in the day, they said ‘Yes, we did actually find a connection card.’ So, it is likely that there was a break in the sewer lateral coming from the house into the street.”

In order to reconnect the house’s sewage line to the town’s sewage line, the University had to dig a hole that was over 10 feet deep in the newly resurfaced roadway.

Robert Zarnetske, the South Kingstown town manager, said it was not clear to the town which system the house was connected to. Zarnetske said that although the house’s sewer line had been connected to the town’s sewer system, there was no record of this since 1981.

However, since the sewer line was a part of the South Kingstown sewer utility system, the town is generally required to have accurate and up to date records of the sewage line. Zarnetske attributed not having recent records of this to a “deficiency in records.”

Despite the town providing inadequate records to the University, Burke said it still remains undetermined who is at fault for the incident.

“At this point, we have a primary contractor, which is Cardi [Construction], that did the bulk of the work,” Burke said. “We have another contractor, Atlantic, that did the sewer repair. We have another external group, the town of South Kingstown, that owns the sewer line, that also apparently had records of the sewer lateral. In shared responsibility situations such as this, we go through a process of fact-finding and gathering. We’re honestly still in that phase. We haven’t concluded anything.”

Once all the facts have been compiled, Burke said they will essentially try to recreate what they think occurred to determine who is at fault.

Despite the fact that it is unclear who is liable for the incident, the University has already paid the contractor to cover the cost of repairs. Total costs included a sewage truck to be connected to the house, a crew to excavate the pipe, a crew to lay new pipe, a crew to repair the lawn and a crew to repair the section of the newly paved road that had to be dug up.

Zarnetske said at the beginning of November that it was his understanding the issue of payment was disputed between the University and the Cardi Corporation. Burke said there is no dispute between the two parties.

“We’re not in conflict,” Burke said. “We’ve made payment to the contractor.”

Zarnetske said the discussion of payment for the repairs was between the University and the Cardi Corporation. However, during a Student Senate Parking and Transportation forum, Abigail Rider, the vice president of the Division of Administration and Finance, said the University did a favor to the town by paying for the repairs.

“Basically, we talked to the town and, in effect, we said ‘you owe us a favor back sometime,’” Rider said.

Even if the investigation into who is responsible for the incident shows URI is not at fault, it is not clear whether the liable party will repay URI.

“It’s really speculative, so it depends on what it is,” Burke said. “The bottom line is everyone that is involved, they’re all partners. The way I look at this is, it’s really just fact-based, this is not adversarial.”

Burke said the incident will not prevent URI from working with the Cardi Corporation in the future. He said they will always work with both local partners and the town of South Kingstown.

The Cardi Corporation did not respond to a request for a comment.