Sterling small businesses battle over damage costs with water company

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Small businesses in Sterling, Illinois, are fighting back after extensive water damage left them footing the bills.

A water main rupture on March 13 is costing them thousands of dollars.

"I've got all this merchandise that was ruined," said Tammy Larson, owner of Dress Code.  "It's all trash."

The break sent water through walls and gushing into basements.

"It just kept coming and coming," Larson recalled.  "Then, it was coming up from the cracks."

Larson is already logging thousands of dollars in damage.

So far, she'll have to pay the bills herself.

"It's a mess down here," she continued.  "I don't know if I can keep the clothes."

Businesses like Dress Code blame Illinois American Water Company for not taking enough action when problems began in late January.

"It could have been prevented," Larson said.  "But they didn't do anything about it."

"They were totally negligent from the very first phone call made to them back on January 26," added Vicki Mandrell, owner of Tuff Dog Bakery.

But in a recent letter, Mandrell learned that the water company is not considered negligent.

"I don't accept this," she said.  "For the first time in 11 years, I hung my head and felt like giving up."

Still, Illinois American says it will continue to help with clean-up needs as the insurance review continues.

The water company says it's sending in a professional cleaning crew to help the businesses bounce back.

"It was just full of mud," recalled groomer Julia Velazquez.

Velazquez feels unsafe working in the basement.

"I don't want to be down here when the walls fall down," she said.

That's because damage is about everywhere in this century-old building on East Third Street.

Stretching from walls to floors, it's a daunting task.

"I'm worried about any mold we can't see behind the drywall, especially on the bottom there," Velazquez said.

After temporarily patching up Third Street, Illinois American will need to work with IDOT to figure out a more permanent repair.

"I'm hoping they stand up and take responsibility for what has happened," Larson concluded.