Man says company, paid to raise home, destroyed foundation


Posted on July 28, 2011 at 10:28 PM

Updated Friday, Jul 29 at 9:48 AM

Dennis Woltering / Eyewitness News

NEW ORLEANS -- In its ads, Coastal Shoring promises to "raise your home to new standards."

“It's clean broken through here, it's broken through here, it's broken through there,” said Michael Gurtler, an independent engineer. “It's broken 2 feet over that way.”

But according to independent engineers, and Coastal Shoring itself, the company has left the foundation of John Boutte's house here in Algiers so broken that it cannot be fixed.

“According to them apparently what needs to be done is the house needs to be demolished and new house needs to be built,” Boutte said.

An engineer that Coastal Shoring brought in to examine the house two months after crews began excavating underneath sent the firm a report concluding that "we recommend that the house be demolished and rebuilt from scratch."

“I don't know all the answers. I just know that it doesn't seem right that I have a house now that's basically worthless,” Holmes said. “I don't think I could sell it. I don't know how long it will be before it starts collapsing.”

John Boutte and his wife Mercedes signed a contract with Coastal Shoring calling for the firm to be paid more than $110,000 to elevate the house about 3 feet.

Government funding would pay for everything – $30,000 would come from the Road Home program, $80,568 would come from the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program.

And Boutte said he was amazed at how hard and fast the crew worked that began digging under his house in mid-March.

“I left for work and came home, and every 8 feet were these 5 foot holes where they had dug, and they eventually they had tunneled underneath the house and started driving these pilings,” Boutte said.

He said at one point the crew called out engineers because they were having complications.

“And apparently the complications were that they, my slab ended up getting cracked in lots of places,” Boutte said.

He started looking around and found cracks all over the place. When the crew left, he crawled under his house and found a number of cracks in the slab.

“Almost everywhere that a piling has been driven my house has cracks in the slab,” he said.

Boutte said they brought out steel beams which they placed on each side of the house to try to stabilize things.

“I'm amazed,” Gurtler said. “I am amazed.”

An independent engineering consultant, Michael Gurtler, whom WWL TV asked to take a look at the project, said all the excavating under the house has damaged the foundation beyond repair.

“They clearly broke it in half right there, absolutely,” Gurtler said.

Gurtler, the owner of Gurtler Brothers Consultants, said this work was improperly done. Instead of excavating under much of the house first, then placing supporting piles afterward, he said the crew should have immediately placed a supporting pile under each small section they dug out before moving on.

“When you have a house that doesn't have piles and you start to dig it out, you need to provide support as you dig because the soil is what holds the house in place,” Gurtler said.

Gurtler said lifting this house at this point would be like lifting a plate that's broken into pieces. You couldn't lift it intact, and you couldn't sell it.

“You have a house with a broken foundation that can't in my opinion be fixed,” Gurtler said.

Inside John Boutte's house, Gurtler finds more evidence that the slab has been broken in many places.

“I mean the tiles are broken over here and over here,” he said. “See? The tiles are cracked, here, here, here, here and there.”

He said he can tell a supporting pile is under the slab at this point because the floor is pushed up right here.

“And it's pushed up by a solid three quarters of an inch maybe, which means the concrete slab can be broken all around that,” Gurtler said.

The exterior walls of the house are built with concrete blocks, and the engineer Coastal Shoring hired to examine the house told the firm in his report that the original foundation is not "one-piece reinforced," but rather three sections, "none of which are connected."

And engineer Michael Cenac said “...there is no way that this foundation can be safely elevated."

But why didn't Coastal Shoring discover that until it was too late? Gurtler said they should have known.

“In my opinion, yes. Just because of the exterior style of construction, the concrete block, the extra weight, the rigidity, the age of the house,” Gurtler said.

Gurtler also questions why Coastal Shoring left this excavation unsafely unsecured, with deep, open holes all around the house.

Boutte, the homeowner, put up a plastic safety fence after his dog fell into one of the holes.

“Most of the holes should not be left unattended overnight so that somebody walking their dog in the middle of the night won't fall in the hole by accident,” Gurtler said. “None of that was done here.”

But Boutte is far more concerned about what happens next.

“My house is basically destroyed and these people did it,” Boutte said. “And I think they should do something about it.”

Coastal Shoring has returned to the state the $70,000 it has been provided to get the work started, but so far, it has refused to do what its own engineer recommended: demolish the house and rebuild it.

“Somewhere in their system someone owes him a house that he can live in, that he can sell, that is equivalent to what he had before they started,” Gurtler said.

Coastal Shoring declined our request for an interview on camera and did not answer a list of questions we sent them.

Attorney Danny Abel did issue a statement, saying in part that Boutte's house had defects that "were not evident upon initial inspection” and “the house was structurally unsound as built, and (was) damaged before."

He added that “Coastal did not cause the damage, therefore there is no claim."