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Sewer lawyer responds to mayor's criticism

James Rada, Jr.
Thurmont Dispatch

(7/6) The families who won a $3.5-million award in May against the town of Thurmont because the town's sewer system backed up into their homes are not responsible for the drastic increases in the town's water and sewer rates, according to one of the families' lawyers.

John Coppock wrote in a letter about Mayor Martin Burns comments on the case that, "the Mayor has attempted to shift blame and portray the Plaintiffs as opportunists who exaggerated their claims and took something from the Town. The Mayor suggested that the Plaintiffs' damages were minimal and that they, the Plaintiffs, are to blame for upcoming increased tax rates and hardships in the Town's immediate future."

Coppock said that the town has known since 1974 that the sewer system needed repairs to avoid sewage back-ups.

"Rather than accept responsibility for the condition of the system and the decades long history of negligence and mismanagement, the Mayor has decided to attempt to gain the favor of his constituency by making these ravaged homeowners look like predators," Coppock wrote.

Burns said he stands by any comments he has made concerning the case. "Except for that incident, for 30 years we haven't had a sewage back up in people's homes," Burns said.

Coppock said the sewage back-ups "dramatically impacted" the value of the homes in and around Ironmaster Court because any potential buyers would have to be told that houses had suffered sewage damage. Because of this, the plaintiffs deserved to be awarded 1.5 times the value of their homes.

"The Mayor's expression of dismay over the size of the jury award against the Town of Thurmont is incomprehensible when one has a complete grasp of what the Mayor knew, or should have known, and how long he knew or should have known it. Making comments that place the Plaintiff's in a negative light by selectively addressing the issue of damages is extremely unfair and self-serving," Coppock wrote.

Burns said that the town tried to sit down with the families after the back-up to try and reach an agreement on what needed to be done to repair the homes and reimburse the families for their inconvenience. He said the families rejected the offer and were determined to sue the town.

"They wanted to go for as much was they could get," Burns said. "This is revenge."

"These families did nothing wrong. When they bought their homes in Thurmont they did not know that this problem has been quietly passed on from Mayor to Mayor and Commissioner to Commissioner, for thirty years. They simply bought a home in a quiet community to live out the 'American Dream' of homeownership. Little did they know that when the system failed them and their homes were full of raw sewage that a Mayor would emerge that would point the finger at them instead of assuming the responsibility and leadership that the position requires," Coppock wrote.

Burns the families' actions have led to the increase in sewer and water rates and that the town was going to do everything possible to get that money back. They have already appealed the court verdict.

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