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Village council, resident, county at odds over drain, flooded home



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February 15, 2012 - Goodrich- It's been more than seven months since a July storm dumped about five inches of rain on the area, overwhelming a century-old county drain and releasing thousands of gallons of water into Terese Allen's Ridge Road home.

"My daughter woke me up on the morning of July 28 and said there's water coming in our house through the sliding back doors," said Allen. "Water was waist-high in my backyard. Within a few hours the water was almost to our knees in my walkout basement—it was near the electrical sockets. I called Consumer's (Energy) and had them shut the gas and electric off. The water came in and around the furnace, hot water heater, water softener and personal belongings. Two bedrooms, a bathroom and family room were destroyed. And now there's a concern for black mold," she said. "I will not recover without some help—we had to move out of the lower level and just live upstairs."

Since that summer rain storm Allen has battled both the county and village for not only some assistance, but also answers surrounding the Wheellock and Watkins drain behind her home.

"I contacted Genesee County and they snaked out the drain while my house was flooding. They removed garbage that was obviously blocking the flow of water," she said. "Within a few hours the water went down. It took nine hours for the water to be pumped out of my house. My sump pump was working the entire time."

Allen indicated she had records stating that the Wheellock drain was "non-working, undersized and outdated."

Allen, a single mom with four children at home, said several factors contributed to the flood in her home.

"It's a 100-year-old agricultural drain," Allen said. "Since it was installed there's been development in the area—it's just not designed for all the homes now built in the area. In addition, after the five inches of rain on July 27, the gates on the village dam were never lifted to accommodate all the water. In addition, the village building inspector approved the basement to be dug two feet lower than the drain level in the backyard."

After first addressing the council last August about how the drain failed to adequately contend with heavy amounts of rainwater several pleas have been made to the village council and the county to seek compensation for the damages of what she feels is their responsibility.

Village Attorney Michael Gildner responded to the complaint from Allen at the Monday village council meeting.

Following a closed session meeting, the council voted 4-0 to release his recommendation to the public. Village Council member Mike Baldwin was absent.

Gildner suggested the process set by the Michigan legislature should determine a remedy.

"The question, it seems to me, is whether the village is the 'appropriate governmental agency' that had 'legal authority' to maintain that portion of the Wheeler (Wheelock) and Watkins drain where a defect, if any, existed. I understand that (Genesee) County has always maintained the system. I also note that county drain employees responded to Ms. Allen's complaint and snaked the drain at Hempton's Body Shop, pulling out items that might have caused the back-up. If true, these acts suggest that the county, and not the village, is responsible for maintaining the system. If that is the case, Genesee County is liable for Ms. Allen's damages and not the village."

Gildner suggested the village submit a claim to their insurance carrier for further handling. The insurance carrier is responsible for providing a defense and indemnification to the village for claims such as Allen's.

Allen questioned the response.

"The flood in my home has nothing to do with sewage," said Allen, following Monday's meeting. "But it's more than anyone has done in the past few months from the village. What do I do? The furnace is running for now and I'm not sure how safe it is, I had to replace the hot water heater, the walls are ripped out of the downstairs and so is the insulation—that's gone. It's cold."

Jim Gerth, director of surface water management for the Genesee County Drain Commission, said several factors should be taken into consideration.

"The Wheelock and Watkins drain is extremely old," he said. "There were no, or few homes in the area then, and from old photos the water in the mill pond was not so high. Still, under the state law, if they want the drain upgraded that can be initiated by the municipality or by the land owners. That would require a special assessment and a public hearing. There's no provision to pay for such damages. The relief is through special assessment, that's the function. We just can't go out there and put in a bigger drain."

Gerth said that if an insurance company has a claim, it would be referred to the county risk manager— part of the county system.

"The county attorneys would have to sort that out," he added. "However, the county has maintained the drain, which consists of a six-inch pipe."

"Much of the soil in that area is peat or muck—it was undeveloped back when the drain was built. There is really no place for the water to go—there's no over land flow. The other possibility is the drain could have been plugged up by the storm run-off."

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