May 10, 2016

State links pyrrhotite to crumbling concrete

STAFFORD — J.J. Mottes Co. and Becker Construction have agreed to stop supplying aggregate for residential foundations for at least one season after the state found that Becker's Quarry contains pyrrhotite, a mineral believed to be the cause of failing concrete.

The two family-run companies at the center of an ongoing issue regarding failing concrete foundations — J.J. Mottes Co. in Stafford and Becker's Quarry in Willington — have entered into an assurance of voluntary compliance with the attorney general and the Department of Consumer Protection to not sell material from the quarry at least until June 2017.

Through its investigation, the state has determined pyrrhotite found at Becker's Quarry is partially to blame for crumbling concrete foundations, a conclusion disputed by J.J. Mottes.

Attorney General George Jepsen said Monday that while a state investigation into the cause of crumbling foundations continues, the material should not be used for residential construction.

"We believe there is now sufficient evidence to conclude that significant levels of the mineral pyrrhotite in stone aggregate used in the production of concrete is a substantial contributing factor to the crumbling foundations," Jepson said.

Jepsen said his office determined that pyrrhotite is partially at fault through the analysis and input from a "scientific expert as well as other information obtained in the investigation."

Jepsen said there is the potential that Becker's Quarry contains pyrrhotite "in significant levels" and as a cautionary step, the material should be removed from the residential construction market until the state's investigation is complete.

"Our findings have confirmed that pyrrhotite is a factor in failing foundations, and that has opened up the door for us to take some preliminary action that can help consumers," consumer protection Commissioner Jonathan Harris said.

Upon completion of the investigation, Jepsen said his office will be better able to determine what legal steps to take and which public policy changes are necessary.

"We commend these companies for agreeing to this voluntary step in the interest of public confidence in the safety of building materials and in allowing a full investigation to be completed," Jepsen said.

The agreement between the two companies and the state applies only to the use of their products for residential construction, but Jepsen and Harris are urging commercial and public project managers to monitor the quality of material used in their projects.

While the state's investigation has found deterioration in multiple residential foundations, it has not found similar failures in commercial or public building foundations, according to Jepsen.

Although the state has not found any legal violations by either company, the agreement protects the state's right to take legal action once the agreement expires.

Sen. Timothy Larson, D-East Hartford, applauded the state's actions Monday.

"Residents have been dealing with this issue for months — possibly years — and I am glad they are beginning to get some answers in the form of the attorney general's announcement about these two companies that may have faulty products," Larson said.

The agreement, along with legislation passed by the General Assembly last week, "should provide some comfort and an assurance that we are working hard to get to the bottom of this," Larson said.

Likewise, Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, praised the agreement, but also expressed concern for the victims.

"It is important that we stop this problem from occurring in new homes and this investigation will help us to do that," she said. "But we must also keep working on behalf of residents whose homes have already been affected."

Despite the state's findings, J.J. Mottes spokesman John Patton continues to assert that foundations are failing as the result of improper installation and not the materials used. citing a 2003 court decision in their favor — a decision that made no mention of pyrrhotite.

"Mottes and Becker continue to strongly believe that the current situation involving residential foundations in Eastern Connecticut is an installation issue," the companies' lawyer, Robert Langer, of Wiggin and Dana LLP, said in a May 6 letter to Jepsen and Harris. "There are many deteriorating concrete structures in castern Connecticut as well as in other parts of the state that have nothing to do with either Mottes or Becker."

According to local and state filings, Diane Becker is listed as the president and treasurer of J.J. Mottes, and Patton — Becker's husband — is listed as its secretary.

Becker's Quarry has a listed owner of Holt Mountain LLC, of which Becker is listed as the sole principal.

Prior to Dec. 2012, Holt Mountain's owner was listed as Lawrence Becker — Diane Becker's father — who had been the owner since 1956.

The two companies continued to work together supplying aggregate and mixing concrete for foundations as recently as last season.

Last month, J.J. Mottes leased its facilities and equipment to Connecticut Ready Mix of Farmington for this season.

As of Monday, there have been 220 complaints filed with DCP, and the state continues to encourage those affected to file a formal complaint to further assist the investigation.

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