Will stormwater woes flow uphill?

Published 6:23 pm Tuesday, November 6, 2018

County hopes state will fix drainage problems

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

Rather than claim ownership of Isle of Wight County’s orphan outfall pipes, the Board of Supervisors are leaning toward seeking assistance on the state-level from the Virginia Association of Counties and VDOT. 

The issue arose recently when Carrollton resident Otis Brock reported that more than 40 feet of his property had eroded due to a failed outfall pipe. 

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Brock is not alone, as county officials have identified other failing outfall pipes, but the total number of similar outfalls in the county is unknown, said Isle of Wight County Utility Services Director Don Jennings at a Nov. 1 Board work session. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

An outfall pipe is one that collects stormwater from a roadway, runs across an easement for varying distances beyond the road right-of-way and discharges the stormwater into a creek, ditch or marshy area. 

The Virginia Department of Transportation maintains stormwater infrastructure that directly impacts travel on a roadway, but the state doesn’t accept responsibility for water that goes beyond a road’s right-of-way. 

In Isle of Wight, it appears that many of these outfall pipes were installed in the 1990s in subdivisions approved by the county. The drainage systems were approved by the county and state, but easements were not deeded to either, according to Jennings. 

It makes them “orphan” pipes, in the words of Jerry Franklin, who has been dealing with one on Obrey Drive. 

It is estimated it would cost about $150,000 to fix one failing outfall pipe, said Jennings. 

Jennings advised the Board not to take ownership of the pipes because of the cost of repairs, as well as the possibility that assuming responsibility might resurrect the need for a MS4 permit — a layer of state stormwater oversight that the county got out of two years ago. 

Getting out of the permit allowed the county to lower the residential stormwater fee last year from $72 to $54. 

Jennings estimated it would cost the county $15 million to fix 100 pipes — and the actual number of failing pipes is currently unknown. 

The newly formed Stormwater Advisory Committee compiled a series of possible solutions to the issue and presented those to the Board.

The solutions ranged from doing nothing to mounting a countywide title search to determine ownership of the outfall pipe easements, to working with the Virginia Association of Counties to see if other localities are having the same problem. 

“I think this will uncover a very large, statewide issue,” said Newport District Supervisor William McCarty. 

Isle of Wight County Administrator Randy Keaton also suggested bringing up the issue at the next Transportation Planning Organization meeting. 

The Hampton Roads TPO oversees appropriation of funds for transportation projects. The Virginia Association of Counties often serves as a lobbying arm to the General Assembly for counties in Virginia. 

That evening, Guy Brock, son of Otis, told the Board of his family’s frustration over the outfall pipe issue. 

Brock said that out of the three drains in his neighborhood, two are failing, and of the 36 curb drain openings, 14 need repair. 

Brock said he’s been calling VDOT, to no avail. 

VDOT says it’s the county’s problem and the county says it’s VDOT’s problem, said Brock. 

“One resident standing up against VDOT isn’t going to do it. Where do we go from here,” said Brock.

McCarty said the county plans to follow up.

It’s hard to tell residents that the county has zero control over VDOT, he said. 

VDOT declined to comment for the story.  {/mprestriction}