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Arras v. Columbia Quarry Co.





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Monroe County; the Hon. ROBERT J. SPRAGUE, Judge, presiding.


The defendant, Columbia Quarry Company, appeals from a judgment of the circuit court of St. Clair County, awarding damages to Erwin L. Arras and Eleanor M. Arras, landowners in St. Clair County, Illinois, for the loss of water in a well on their property. In their complaint the Arrases had asked for damages for the loss of water in a 165-feet-deep well and for the nuisance created by the quarry company's operations.

Mr. and Mrs. Arras own real estate in St. Clair County, a few miles east of the Village of Dupo, Illinois. The Arrases have lived on the land since 1948. They have a well on their property, working since sometime in the 1800's, approximately 165 feet deep, which provided water for all their needs until August 31, 1972.

The Columbia Quarry Company owns and operates a rock quarry that is approximately one-half mile from the Arrases' property. The quarry company uses explosives in the operation of the quarry, keeping records of information concerning each blasting.

The plaintiffs testified that they were in their home on the afternoon of August 31, 1972. Mrs. Arras was in the kitchen and Mr. Arras was in the living room. Mrs. Arras said that when she first felt the blast the house was vibrating, a cabinet door flew open and a cup fell out. She ran outside and could see the dust from the blast flying up. This blast, she said, was an especially heavy one. She also stated that their well had been working properly that morning but after the blast there was no more water in it. She did not know how the well worked, but did know that her husband had pulled the mechanism out the day after the blast to check it and that he could find nothing wrong with it.

Mr. Arras testified substantially the same as Mrs. Arras. He said that the evening of the blast the pump was pumping and would not shut off. The next day he checked to see if anything was wrong with the mechanism but found it intact. He put it back and started it again but there still was no water. He put a hose down the pipe alongside the wooden rod that pumps the water and ran water into the well. It immediately started to pump but nothing came up except sludge.

Anna Dugan, a neighbor of the Arrases, testified that on August 31, 1972, about 3:30 p.m., there was a heavy blast and the earth was shaking and a "big smoke came up." She testified further that after the explosion the water in her well, which was 184 feet deep, disappeared and there was a crack in the foundation of her garage.

Adli Watuson, another neighbor, testified that she was fishing in a pond on her property at the time of the explosion on August 31, 1972. She said that she heard the noise from the blast and felt the ground shake. She then saw the smoke rising in the air and was hit by debris from the explosion. Mrs. Watuson further testified that the water in her well, which was 200 feet deep, was muddy and she had to haul water in from elsewhere for a while after the explosion. She said that this happens when there are heavy blasts and that the water is usually clear again within 24 hours. Mrs. Watuson said that after this blast her house had broken windows and cracks in the concrete.

Raymond Dohrman testified concerning the cost of drilling a new well. He stated that he had been in the business of well drilling and pump repair for 15 years. He said it would cost $10 per foot to drill a well and gave an estimate of $5223 based on a well depth of 425 feet. He testified that it would be necessary to drill 425 feet if not deeper to get to water on the Arrases' property. He said he had based his estimate on the depth of other wells in the neighborhood within a half-mile of the Arrases' property.

Harold Thompson who was pit foreman for the quarry company on August 31, 1972, testified concerning the explosives used that day. He said that he maintained a log sheet with respect to the discharge of explosives, and that the log sheet for August 31, 1972, showed that 2400 pounds of explosives were used that day. The explosives were set off in four delays, 25 milliseconds apart, 600 pounds per delay. Counsel for the Arrases asked Thompson if he had ever been involved personally with a violation of any State regulation in a blasting operation. When he said he had not, counsel questioned whether he was not aware of having been fined for violation of State regulations concerning the dust from blasting operations. Mr. Thompson admitted that the quarry company had been found to be in violation of dust regulations but not in violation of regulations having to do with blasting. Counsel for the quarry company moved for a mistrial on the basis of this line of questioning. The court denied the motion for mistrial but instructed the jury to disregard those questions.

The quarry company called as witnesses six other landowners from the same area in which the Arrases lived. They were questioned about problems with dust from the quarry, interference with the use of their properties, damages to their buildings, and whether or not they could feel the blasts from the quarry. These witnesses could feel the blasts but did not otherwise suffer any adverse consequences. Three of the witnesses were not home at the time of the explosion on August 31, 1972, two could not remember where they were on that date, and one was at home. The one witness who was at home testified that the blast on that day was louder than normal.

Donald Simpson, a safety engineer from the Illinois Department of Mines and Minerals, testified that the amount of explosives used by the quarry company on August 31, 1972, should not have caused any damage to the Arrases' home or well.

John Mathes, a geotechnical engineer, testified concerning water tables and how they may change. He stated that natural changes in the subsurface conditions, which happen often, could have caused the loss of water in the well.

The jury found in favor of the Arrases on the question of the damage to the well and awarded them $9700. They found for the quarry company on the nuisance issue. Judgment was so ordered by the court and ...

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