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Options limited for Lami-Plast neighbors affected by runoff water

Runoff water from the Lami-Plast fire scene has flooded neighbors' back yards. In Randy Letner's case, it's cut off his running water.

Posted on Feb. 5, 2014 at 9:24 p.m.

ELKHART — "Welcome to my nightmare," Randy Letner said while standing outside his home three days after a fire broke at Lami-Plast, a fiberglass plant on the north side of Elkhart County.

Letner, 57, and his wife, Judy Letner, 57, have been living a nightmare the past few days, facing issues resulting from the fire.

The couple lives in the 25000 block of Modrell Avenue, directly south of Lami-Plast. Their daughter and two grandchildren stay at their house sometime as well.

The smoke, which as of Wednesday afternoon still hovered around the surrounding neighborhoods like a fog that smelled of chemicals, is not something the couple is concerned with anymore.

Since the fire started, runoff water from the plant has flooded the Letners' backyard. The water has gotten into their well pit and into the crawlspace underneath their house.

With a flooded well pit, the pump sending water up to the house stopped working Monday night, while Judy Letner brushed her teeth.

On Tuesday morning, Randy Letner worked to pump the water out of the well pit, and the couple had running water for a few hours, before the well pit got flooded again and water froze around the pump.

There is no indication that other residents in the neighborhood are having the same problems as the Letners, although they know a man who owns property nearby who also has a well and was experiencing issues.

So far, neither the Elkhart County Emergency Services Management office, nor the Elkhart County Health Department have received reports from neighbors in that area.

Tara Still, an environmentalist with the health department, said her office had not received a report of Randy Letner's case, but she wasn't surprised to hear about it.

Still said the issues that the Letners were facing could be long lasting because of the amount of water that was used, the low area in which the house sits and the snow that will start melting as temperatures rise.

"It's like the perfect storm of not-so-great circumstances right now," she said.

The fact that the Letners have a well could be considered a concern because there could be surface contamination that could get into the well water.

Randy Letner said he and his wife, too, were worried about the water.

"Our water isn't that good anyhow, but what we're worried about now is [my neighbor], who owns the property next door said the water around his building looks like a rainbow."

Still said she did not think there were any other county agencies that regularly responded to situations like the Letners'.

Judy Letner called the Osolo Township Fire Department, and was eventually forwarded to the Red Cross to receive aid.

The Letners were not displaced, although they did receive bottled water.

Brandelle Rogers, a disaster services coordinator with the Red Cross, said not having running water is not a reason to be displaced, as long as the residents have a sturdy roof and heat.

"It's inconvenient to not have the water," she said. "But it's not a reason to have to abandon your home."

The Letners' next step was to contact their insurance agency, but they were told that the agency would not cover costs of the damage at their house because it was not something their policy covered.

Mike Auger, president of Berkey Insurance, said it is possible the Letners' insurance policy does not cover the type of damage their house received.

Most insurance policies do not cover groundwater — groundwater being a problem not created by the residents or their home."In most cases anytime we start talking about water — and this is the case with most of all insurance companies — water is a very tricky type of coverage."

However, Auger said  after Letner's claim is denied, he can go to Lami-Plast's insurance company and ask for his home's damages to be covered.

"From a homeowner's standpoint he'd have to go to the company and prove that they were liable," he said. "That the company where the fire was could have a liability exposure that could cover the damage of the home or the basement."

Meanwhile, Randy Letner continues to work tirelessly around his house, but there's only so much he can do.

The water coming from the fire scene froze around the garage, where Randy Letner keeps his tools. As of Wednesday afternoon he could not find a way to get into his garage.

Part of Randy Letner's concern is the standing water surrounding his garage and the water that was getting into the crawlspace underneath the house.

Randy Letner is also worried about his pipes freezing and bursting as the temperatures continue to lower this week.

"I was in tears over all this, because, what do I do?" he said.

For now, Randy Letner tries to solve the issues around his home on his own budget, which is limited, while Judy Letner carries water from their neighbor's house so they can wash the dishes and shower.

Randy Letner said his insurance agent sent a letter out to Lami-Plast to ask for coverage. He didn't know how long it would take to get a response.


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