Only on 10: Providence man tangles with RIDOT over crushed sewer connection

Shake, rattle, and roll.

Residents say video taken inside a house on Maple Street in Providence during the I-195 Relocation Project in 2010 shows how that construction caused endless hours of vibration through the neighborhood.

They say the Rhode Island Department of Transportation is responsible. The residents say that construction cracked a foundation and also crushed three sewer connections.

RIDOT disagrees.

Video of an aquarium inside 43 Maple St., taken by homeowner Michael Johnson Jr., shows what he says clearly demonstrates the extent of the shaking that was taking place.

Across the street at 48 Maple St., his dad, Michael Johnson Sr., says all that shaking crushed his sewer connection and that his family's been without toilet and shower use going on two-and-a-half years, with no resolution in sight.

Johnson Sr. has been on permanent disability after complications from a kidney transplant and has trouble getting around, which makes having to walk across the street or two blocks away to either of his daughters' houses to shower or go to the bathroom all the more difficult.

Technically, he lives with his daughters, but he and his wife keep up the house that is worth half of what they owe in mortgage.

"My sewer collapsed right near the latter part of their finishing the freeway and all their surrounding work," Johnson Sr. said.

It was the spring and summer of 2010, during the I-195 Relocation Project, a stone's throw from 48 Maple.

"I'm sure the problem that he's experiencing is a real problem. The issue that we had with it was whether or not we can directly relate it to the actual construction that was taking place on the Iway," said Frank Corrao, a RIDOT engineer.

Johnson Sr. said he's frustrated.

"They kept telling me to prove it, prove it, prove it. They're not listening to me" he said.

Johnson Sr.'s house is more than 100 years old. Could it be age of the pipe, a root clog? Or did the project rattle the sewer main in the street, cracking some connections on the block?

RIDOT said it put a seismic monitor at 301 Friendship St. to gauge the impact, but that's a block down and a block over, not right next to the construction.

Home video shows water sloshing around in an aquarium.

"There are probably vibrations experienced but they were at levels that would not be something that would actually cause any damage to a structure," Corrao said.

More video taken inside 43 Maple during the construction shows turbulent water in the family's aquarium.

But Johnson's not alone.

NBC 10 found two other homes on the same block, owned by the nonprofit Stop Wasting Abandoned Property hat had their sewer connections fail at the same time.

"It cost us about $22,000 dollars to fix it. We maintain from day one that this had to have been related" to the Iway project," SWAP executive director Carla DeStefano said.

Johnson Sr. lost his upstairs tenant when his sewer failed, putting him behind on his mortgage and ruining his credit so he couldn't get a federally backed loan with strict qualifications to do an emergency fix while he tangled with RIDOT.

The Providence mayor's office couldn't do anything about that, spokesperson David Ortiz said.

"It's unfortunate that Mr. Johnson didn't qualify," Ortiz said.

On top of all that, across the street, Johnson Jr. said the vibrations also cracked his foundation.

The Mayor's Office of Community Relations has reached out to Johnson Sr. to see if it can help.

"To find resources that are in the community that are, that exist for someone in his situation," Ortiz said.

Johnson Sr. is frustrated, but he's not giving up.

"Anyone get a chance for help, I applaud it. But where is it for the little people," he said.

RIDOT said it's the homeowner's responsibility to get a plumber to give a professional opinion as to what happened. RIDOT said it can't use taxpayer money to investigate every claim.

If it can be proven that RIDOT's responsible, it says it will fix the problem at no cost.

Johnson Sr. said he doesn't even have the money for that.