Trench foot: Refilling wasn't so Speedy

When Greg Nelson needed to get his water supply line replaced, he called Speedy-Rooter. He made the call without checking out the company's website, speedyrooter.com, but if he had, he would have been reassured that Speedy "takes care of the problem on the first call," and that the owner, Danny Devlin, "insists that everyone who works for him be committed to excellence."

Now for Nelson's experience. For the actual plumbing work, he has only praise. The problems lie with the trench Speedy cut between his Concord Drive house and the street: Almost eight weeks later, Nelson is still waiting for the trench to be filled in properly.

In his email to me, Nelson claimed that, "An employee of the company did throw a little dirt– and a lot of rocks– into the trench and covered it with straw, but it was not nearly enough dirt, and it was not packed down. When I stepped on the fill dirt, I sank into the trench to my ankles.

"I called to request that the job be done right, and they promised to send somebody out to fix the problem. In the past five weeks I've called a dozen times, and though I've been repeatedly assured that somebody 'will be over there tomorrow or the next day,' nothing further has ever been done. In the meantime the rains have washed what little dirt there was out of the trench."

Finally, an attorney friend suggested Nelson write to Speedy instead of continuing to call. When he called to get the address– expecting to speak with Corinne, the employee he'd dealt with up till then– the owner, Devlin, answered the phone instead.

"He told me it was the first he'd heard of it, and he would be happy to send somebody over to take care of it 'not today, but maybe tomorrow or the day after.' That was 24 hours ago, and nobody has shown up yet to fill in the trench."

I went to Nelson's home on April 25 to survey the situation, armed with a yardstick. The trench is roughly six inches wide, and varies radically in depth. Near the house some spots are level, but there are many that, when stepped on, sink four or five inches. Near the street, however, the situation is much worse, with at least one stretch where there's no dirt left and a trench 13 inches deep. Also, the fill dirt– as Nelson claimed in his email– is full of rocks.

As it happens, I have personal experience with plumbers digging trenches; on March 14, Estes Plumbing laid 100 feet of sewer pipe in my back yard. The trench, which was deeper and longer– and many times wider– than Nelson's, was not only filled in the same day, but firmly tamped down. Even though it's been seven weeks now and we've had lots of rain, it's still level with the rest of the lawn.

When I spoke with Devlin, I told him I'd seen the trench and could confirm its soft and shallow state. He replied that Nelson's roof was the problem: When it rains, water comes off it in such volumes that it has washed the soil away from the trench. I asked Nelson if he was aware of an unusual amount of water coming off his roof; he said no, and claimed he has a downspout at the corner near the trench that empties into a concrete slab– which is directed away from the trench. He also pointed out that the worst erosion, by far, is in the part farthest from the house.

Devlin also claimed that Nelson had signed a document stating that the completed work was "excellent" and "perfect." When I asked to see it, he refused, saying I'm not a lawyer. Nelson claims that he signed only one document, the estimate, in which he agreed to pay for the proposed work.

Devlin said that the employee who was supposed to fix the problem had recently hurt his back– but that he would go to Nelson's that very afternoon and use "expensive topsoil from Snow's" to fill the trench.

He never showed up, however, and at press time the trench continues to gape.

Do you have a consumer problem or question? Email the Fearless Consumer, write her at 100 Second Street NW, 22902, or call 295-8700 ext. 406.