County has too much rain; not enough drainage

By Kathy Helms-Hughes
STAR STAFF
khelms@starhq.com

   Carter County apparently has some water drainage problems, but what can be done about them is anybody's guess. At last week's meeting of the Carter County Highway Department, approximately 10 citizens attended to complain about stormwater runoff issues.
   In the last three years of drought conditions, stormwater runoff and erosion have not been problems. But weeks of rain have left the ground saturated, with no place for runoff to go. According to county residents at Thursday's meeting, the excess water is now gathering in carports, basements, back yards, front yards, roadways, and in overflowing ditchlines. Basically, it's running everywhere except uphill.
   This turn of events is beginning to pit neighbor against neighbor and county residents against the highway department, the water department, and the planning commission. There is plenty of finger pointing, but not much being done, with the exception of referring matters to the county attorney for clarification.
   One member of the highway committee and new county commissioner, Robert Davis, did present an idea for resolving the situation -- get an engineer to look at it and to advise the county of its options. However, even Davis admitted that doing so would cost someone money, and given this fiscal year's budget constraints, problem solving appears "iffy."
   Among residents at the highway meeting was Samantha Pickering of Chambers Drive near Keenburg Elementary School. Pickering said her problem is that a neighbor has directed water from his residence down to her home. The neighbor apparently feels it is not his problem that boulders are now washing downhill, rolling underneath her trailer, and tearing up her underpinning, she said. Another neighbor has filed suit.
   "I'm not poor, but I can't afford to go out and give a lawyer $600 to $1,000 [to sue for payment] for damage that I didn't cause," she said. "I was just sitting at home. I didn't ask for that. Mud keeps coming down the hill. I've got a big sinkhole I can't even drive through on one side of my driveway," she said.
   Chairman Jerry Pearman and committee member John D. Snyder told her, "It don't matter if you're poor or rich. We're talking about somebody turning water down on you. You can't do that." However, it also is not a problem over which the committee has jurisdiction, and Pickering was advised to seek legal advice.
   Another county resident, Bobby Morris, told the committee he will be moving into his new residence on Tester Road within two weeks. Morris said he spoke with county officials the first week of April about a water problem and was told that it would be corrected. So far, he said, nothing's been done.
   Morris said neighbors put in a trailer about a year ago but failed to install a driveway tile. "They filled the county ditch full, and now all of the water is coming down from their driveway and emptying right over on me because the road has not got a tile in it. If they can't put a tile in, I wanted to ask if you all could put in a water curb to keep it from flowing over on me?
   "I'm moving in right there, and it's not dumping over on me," Morris said firmly.
   Joseph Holsclaw of Garrison Hollow Road told the committee that his problem stems from water that comes from across the street. "I live below everybody else, and the water comes down. There used to be a ditch a few years ago on the other side of the road. There was a culvert there, and the culvert runs across and underneath the road and pops out in my front yard. Last year, it came a good rain and water shot up over the culvert and washed my driveway out," he said.
   Holsclaw said he called the county highway department once before, and they came out and installed a curb in front of his driveway to divert the water. He told the committee he did not know the culvert was there when he bought the property and was not advised of its existence.
   "If I had known it was there, I'd never have bought it. I didn't know it was there until three or four weeks after I moved in and we got a good hard rain. I looked out the window and thought we had a water main busted out in the front yard or something because it was shooting out of the ground 3 feet high," he said. Because he lives downhill from his neighbors, all of their excess water ends up in his front yard.
   Holsclaw said he was advised to dig a ditch or put a pipeline down the road, but he said he didn't want to do that because it would direct more water toward his neighbors.
   Another county resident with a problem is Johnny Hobbs of Siam Road. Hobbs said that when the Siam Water Department contracted to put in a new water line, "they filled all the ditches up." Hobbs has lived at the same residence 27 years and, during that time, he said, he had only one water problem, when Roy Taylor was superintendent. "They came up there and ditched the ditch line, and we didn't have no problems again until this," Hobbs said.
   Now, the water drains down from Webb Hollow "and comes across me like a river," Hobbs said. "It runs about 4 inches deep on the county road and right onto me. And in the wintertime it freezes on that road. Somebody's going to get killed going across through there."
   Before the water line was installed, he said, the water drained down the side of the road, crossed at the tile that is underneath the road, and descended a ditchline to the creek.
   However, one man at the meeting told the committee there were no tiles in the ditch when the water line was installed. "They dug up some old hot water heaters with the ends cut out of them." Stacked end to end, hot water heaters apparently were commonly used in place of tiles.
   "What do we have to do to keep the water off of you now?" Snyder asked.
   "Put the ditch line back like it was and put the tile back where it comes across under the road," Hobbs said.
   Committee member Jack Buckles said, "It seems to me the water department is responsible."
   Snyder said he believed it was yet another matter for the county attorney.
   Committeeman Davis said, "It seems that Carter County itself has a water problem when it rains.
   "Right," Pearman said. "It ain't the road superintendent's; it ain't ours. But we've got a problem."
   Davis said, "Sometimes just the geographical area is going to cause some problems. But the only way to correct it, guys, is to have somebody look at it and tell us what we have to do. If there is nothing that we [the committee] can do to correct the situation, somebody has to come up with a solution.
   "An engineering firm or somebody that knows how to control water needs to look at it, and something has to be done. ... We can't have people living in water. Every time it rains, the same thing is going to happen."
   Snyder said the county's biggest problem is incorrect installation of driveways and the county releasing utility contractors from their bonds before they know if a problem exists. "Let them wait a year or two years before you release that bond. When they go and cover up the last hole, don't just say 'OK'."
   "That's the best idea I've heard all day," committeeman John Lewis said.