North Bibb neighbors contend with flooding issues

pramati@macon.comMay 6, 2013 

For a small group of residents on Huddersfield Road, every time it rains, the problems pour.

Terry Svensson can’t mow his lawn regularly, because the rainwater won’t drain and his riding mower sinks in the mud.

The pilot light of his next-door neighbors Steve and Wanda Scroggins went out during recent storms after the rainwater seeped into their basement.

Across the street, the water tends to pool and make a mess of John Laughter’s front lawn. Behind him, torrents of rainwater tend to swamp a vacant piece of property that Sandia Sawin owns adjacent to her home, causing her to abandon plans a few years ago to build a house on the lot for her parents.

The problem for these residents -- beyond the snakes, mosquitoes, rotting trees and soil erosion they face on a regular basis -- is their homes are built in a natural low spot in the northwest Bibb County Stone Edge subdivision.

It’s a problem that a handful of homes on the street have faced for nearly five years, but the owners haven’t been able to solve it. And Bibb County officials say that because the problems are on private property, any fix won’t come from them.

Some of the flooding issues in Stone Edge have dated back to the mid-1990s.

But when construction of the nearby Broadleaf subdivision off Forsyth Road neared completion in 2008, the neighbors said the flooding issues got worse.

“It made no sense,” Sawin said. “They removed 28 acres of trees, which dumped the water on us.”

The flooding wasn’t too bad when Broadleaf was first built, Wanda Scroggins said, because the midstate was in a severe drought at that time. But when the rains finally returned, they brought problems with them. A retaining pond that was built at Broadleaf is too small to solve the flooding issues, she said.

“The retaining pond -- what’s its purpose?” said Scroggins, whose house sits a few feet from the pond. She noted a gully that was dug between her house and Svensson’s that has gone from being less than a foot deep to about 2 feet deep because of erosion.

“God forbid a child gets caught up in it -- they’d drown,” she said.

No solution in sight

The upset residents approached Bibb County commissioners in 2009 to seek relief from the problems after sending a series of emails to commissioners and then-Bibb County Engineer Ken Sheets, who has since retired.

The residents say county officials initially promised to help, then informed them they weren’t going to do anything.

“(Engineers) came out, but we never heard anything back,” Laughter said.

Bibb County Attorney Virgil Adams said engineers, including those from the state, took an extensive look at the problems at Stone Edge. They determined the county wasn’t directly or indirectly responsible for the excess water and that only private property was affected.

Because of that, Adams said, the county is limited in the relief it can offer.

“Unless the county made a decision that caused (the issue) directly or indirectly, there’s no liability,” he said. “It’s not something the county is responsible for. We can’t work on private property unless there’s a public concern. When (the residents became aware of the problem), we said ‘is there something we can do?’ We even called the state in to look at it. (Sheets) did whatever he could, but he couldn’t pinpoint a problem, and we can’t use public funds for it. It’s an unfortunate situation.”

Residents aren’t satisfied with that response.

“If it’s not the county’s problem, then whose problem is it?” Svensson asked.

Bibb County Engineer David Fortson said he and another engineer drove by the houses Monday to look for themselves. He also checked the files from 2009.

“I didn’t see anything that would change the decision from ’09,” he said.

Because the problems are on private property, Fortson said the owners can attempt to fix the problem, provided they don’t violate environmental laws.

Fortson also said he drove by Broadleaf and found that the subdivision complies with county construction laws put in place in 2009. Some of those regulations have changed because of state laws, he said, but nothing that would dramatically change the water output from Broadleaf.

After particularly heavy rains recently, the flooding issues re-emerged. A sweetgum tree already has fallen into the ditch behind Svensson’s backyard, and branches and leaves from other trees continue to fall into the ditch, damming the water and causing more flooding. He said most of the sweetgums in that section of his property are rotting and likely will fall too.

The residents said their options are limited. They sought an attorney in 2009 to see if a class-action lawsuit might get things changed, but the lawyer’s fees were too expensive and the lawyer wasn’t too optimistic about their chances.

“He said, ‘You’re trying to fight city hall,’” Scroggins said.

She pointed to the side of her house, where the air conditioning units had to be replaced because of rust. There’s still rust and algae on the side of the house, and rusted railing on the front of the house that needs replacing.

She said the county gave her sod to fill in some of her front lawn after the soil eroded, but the sod washed away.

“It was so sorry of a job,” she said.

Some of the neighbors have had to put in sump pumps, and Svensson said he’s getting ready to install one himself.

Spending money either on an attorney or on home and land repairs has been galling for the residents.

“This is nothing we did,” he said. “I don’t know why we have to pay.”

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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