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Answer to sinkhole repair remains up in the air

The only way the Town of Pulaski can legally foot the bill to repair a collapsing culvert is to purchase the strip of land that contains the pipe, the town’s legal counsel said Tuesday night.
“It’s not that we don’t want to (fix the problem),” town attorney David Warburton told two homeowners on Fourth Street during the town’s monthly work session. “We can’t do it on private property. I can’t let Town Council vote to spend town money or resources on private land.”
Although John Saul offered to give the town an easement across his property to fix the problem, Warburton said he doesn’t think an easement alone will be sufficient.
The problems began when a three-foot-square box culvert made of brick and mortar started to collapse under the properties of Saul and Donna Bobbitt. Town Manager John Hawley says 1930 town council minutes show the property owner installed the culvert so that a natural drainage ditch could be filled to make the lot suitable for construction of the two houses. He said the town agreed to allow the culvert to be connected to its storm water system, but required that it not be held liable for damages caused as a result of the property owner’s culvert.
Citing a report from the Virginia Department of Conservation, Bobbitt said she thinks the town is 90 percent responsible for her house being threatened by the hole because the culvert collapsed as the result of a sediment blockage in a town drainage pipe under Fourth Street.
However, Mayor Jeff Worrell said at the beginning of the discussion that the sediment blockage resulted from a large release of soil when the culvert collapsed, not vice versa. He said the solution to the problem is for the owners to relocate the water flow so that it doesn’t pass under the corner of Bobbitt’s porch and replace it with new pipe.
Councilman Morgan Welker asked if it is feasible to line the collapsing culvert with plastic pipe and then fill it with dirt and rocks so that water doesn’t pass through it anymore. He said he is worried that if the collapse continues it will affect other properties.
“It may not be our fault or responsibility, but we could have a heap of trouble in the whole neighborhood if something isn’t done,” he said. “If something doesn’t get done, it could affect a lot of people.”
Town Engineer Bill Pedigo agreed that the culvert is going to continue to collapse if it isn’t fixed. He said that could cause water to back up into a field along Fifth Street during heavy run-off.
Saul said he was told that the drain handles 50 to 55 acres of runoff “and that’s a lot of water.” He said the estimate he received for having the culvert repaired is more than $70,000. He said that while he understands Warburton’s position that the town doesn’t want to set a precedent by making a repair on private property, he doesn’t have “$35,000 laying around” to cover half the repair costs.
He added that tacking the cost of repairs onto his mortgage would leave him “stuck” with a $110,000 house because “this neighborhood isn’t going to support” selling the house for that much.
Warburton said the issue is more than setting a precedent or the fact the 1930 agreement releases the town from responsibility for problems arising from the culvert. He reiterated that the town simply cannot spend taxpayer dollars on private property.
On the other hand, he noted that Saul and Bobbitt also don’t have any obligation to retain the drainage ditch. As long as it is disconnected from the town system, he said they can fill it in. “I don’t know what that would do to the drainage in the area,” he added.
Councilman Robert Bopp said he doesn’t understand why estimates for repair are so high.
Saul said the estimate calls for replacing the old culvert with 150 feet of concrete-reinforced pipe.
Welker said he thinks it would be “very irresponsible” to that neighborhood for the town not to do something about the problem, given the amount of water the drain is carrying during storms. He said he thinks repairs could be done “for a whole lot less” if plastic pipe were used and the work was done “in house.”
Hawley said an engineering firm would need to be hired to determine what would be needed to adequately handle the storm water flow. He said he fears the town could have some liability if the solution doesn’t adequately handle the runoff.
Bopp said he thinks the only workable solution is for the town to be deeded ownership of the strip of land and for the town to find out “what is the cheapest thing that will work” to fix the issue.
In the end, council decided to have staff obtain estimates of the cost for an engineering study on the situation.
Worrell warned council that some kind of action would have to be taken at council’s Feb. 2 meeting because the situation keeps worsening. He said council is certainly sympathetic with Bobbitt, who told council she is worried about losing her house due to the sinkhole’s encroachment on the structure. It was 54 inches from her front porch and is now 31 inches, she added.
“I can’t keep losing my yard. It falls in every time it rains, snows or sleets,” she said.
She said she wasn’t “even born yet” when the 1930s agreement was made and now the town is “holding someone else’s minutes over my head.
“I would appreciate your help,” Bobbitt said.
Hawley noted that the 1930 minutes were found when town staff was doing an easement search.
Warburton said the situation should have been revealed during a title search when the properties were sold.
Saul said for some reason the title searches didn’t uncover the fact the culvert passed under their properties.

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Answer to sinkhole repair remains up in the air

The only way the Town of Pulaski can legally foot the bill to repair a collapsing culvert is to purchase the strip of land that contains the pipe, the town’s legal counsel said Tuesday night.
“It’s not that we don’t want to (fix the problem),” town attorney David Warburton told two homeowners on Fourth Street during the town’s monthly work session. “We can’t do it on private property. I can’t let Town Council vote to spend town money or resources on private land.”
Although John Saul offered to give the town an easement across his property to fix the problem, Warburton said he doesn’t think an easement alone will be sufficient.
The problems began when a three-foot-square box culvert made of brick and mortar started to collapse under the properties of Saul and Donna Bobbitt. Town Manager John Hawley says 1930 town council minutes show the property owner installed the culvert so that a natural drainage ditch could be filled to make the lot suitable for construction of the two houses. He said the town agreed to allow the culvert to be connected to its storm water system, but required that it not be held liable for damages caused as a result of the property owner’s culvert.
Citing a report from the Virginia Department of Conservation, Bobbitt said she thinks the town is 90 percent responsible for her house being threatened by the hole because the culvert collapsed as the result of a sediment blockage in a town drainage pipe under Fourth Street.
However, Mayor Jeff Worrell said at the beginning of the discussion that the sediment blockage resulted from a large release of soil when the culvert collapsed, not vice versa. He said the solution to the problem is for the owners to relocate the water flow so that it doesn’t pass under the corner of Bobbitt’s porch and replace it with new pipe.
Councilman Morgan Welker asked if it is feasible to line the collapsing culvert with plastic pipe and then fill it with dirt and rocks so that water doesn’t pass through it anymore. He said he is worried that if the collapse continues it will affect other properties.
“It may not be our fault or responsibility, but we could have a heap of trouble in the whole neighborhood if something isn’t done,” he said. “If something doesn’t get done, it could affect a lot of people.”
Town Engineer Bill Pedigo agreed that the culvert is going to continue to collapse if it isn’t fixed. He said that could cause water to back up into a field along Fifth Street during heavy run-off.
Saul said he was told that the drain handles 50 to 55 acres of runoff “and that’s a lot of water.” He said the estimate he received for having the culvert repaired is more than $70,000. He said that while he understands Warburton’s position that the town doesn’t want to set a precedent by making a repair on private property, he doesn’t have “$35,000 laying around” to cover half the repair costs.
He added that tacking the cost of repairs onto his mortgage would leave him “stuck” with a $110,000 house because “this neighborhood isn’t going to support” selling the house for that much.
Warburton said the issue is more than setting a precedent or the fact the 1930 agreement releases the town from responsibility for problems arising from the culvert. He reiterated that the town simply cannot spend taxpayer dollars on private property.
On the other hand, he noted that Saul and Bobbitt also don’t have any obligation to retain the drainage ditch. As long as it is disconnected from the town system, he said they can fill it in. “I don’t know what that would do to the drainage in the area,” he added.
Councilman Robert Bopp said he doesn’t understand why estimates for repair are so high.
Saul said the estimate calls for replacing the old culvert with 150 feet of concrete-reinforced pipe.
Welker said he thinks it would be “very irresponsible” to that neighborhood for the town not to do something about the problem, given the amount of water the drain is carrying during storms. He said he thinks repairs could be done “for a whole lot less” if plastic pipe were used and the work was done “in house.”
Hawley said an engineering firm would need to be hired to determine what would be needed to adequately handle the storm water flow. He said he fears the town could have some liability if the solution doesn’t adequately handle the runoff.
Bopp said he thinks the only workable solution is for the town to be deeded ownership of the strip of land and for the town to find out “what is the cheapest thing that will work” to fix the issue.
In the end, council decided to have staff obtain estimates of the cost for an engineering study on the situation.
Worrell warned council that some kind of action would have to be taken at council’s Feb. 2 meeting because the situation keeps worsening. He said council is certainly sympathetic with Bobbitt, who told council she is worried about losing her house due to the sinkhole’s encroachment on the structure. It was 54 inches from her front porch and is now 31 inches, she added.
“I can’t keep losing my yard. It falls in every time it rains, snows or sleets,” she said.
She said she wasn’t “even born yet” when the 1930s agreement was made and now the town is “holding someone else’s minutes over my head.
“I would appreciate your help,” Bobbitt said.
Hawley noted that the 1930 minutes were found when town staff was doing an easement search.
Warburton said the situation should have been revealed during a title search when the properties were sold.
Saul said for some reason the title searches didn’t uncover the fact the culvert passed under their properties.

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