IW has received many stormwater complaints

Published 4:31 pm Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Carrollton homeowner Otis Brock, who lives on Deep Water Way, isn’t alone in his efforts to get Isle of Wight County to take responsibility for a collapsed stormwater pipe that’s been washing away his backyard.

According to Assistant County Administrator Don Robertson, Isle of Wight has received a total of 28 similar complaints to date involving outfall pipes.

“We are aware of several discharge areas with varied amounts of damage,” Robertson said, but “given the amount of effort required and our current limitations with respect to available staff, an accurate survey of outfalls that require restoration has yet to be conducted.”

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Tammy Spencer is one such person in a similar situation. She lives in Williamsburg but was born and raised in Isle of Wight County and frequently returns to care for her mother, who is ill, and take care of her property on Smiths Neck Road.

She can recall growing up in her mothers’ home 40 years ago when a Virginia Department of Transportation crew put in a stormwater pipe between her mother’s property and their neighbor’s, and as a teenager, when work crews composed of inmates would come out to clean the ditch.

“My dad wouldn’t let me come out of the house [when they were working],” she said.

But now that the pipe has failed, no one has claimed responsibility — not VDOT and not the county.

“I have four-foot holes,” Spencer said.

“I could surf on it,” she added, describing the force with which the stormwater from surrounding properties pours from the outfall pipe on her mother’s property.

County and VDOT officials have told her that there’s no record of an easement having been granted on her mother’s land, and that, therefore, the situation is the homeowner’s responsibility. Acting on what she’d been told, a few weeks ago just before a big rain storm, she temporarily plugged the pipe to keep the stormwater out of her mother’s yard.

“I told Isle of Wight County that’s what I was going to do,” Spencer said. “They have told me it’s the homeowner’s land, there’s no right of way there, but you as a homeowner cannot block that pipe … now, how is that fair if they’re not going to take care of it? How can I allow everybody’s water to come through there like a flood?”

But there’s another side to this story. In 2016, Isle of Wight County successfully negotiated with the state Department of Environmental Quality to be released from its municipal separate storm sewer system (MS4) permit obligations, arguing that it did not own or operate a municipal stormwater system. This allowed county staff to cut the stormwater fee it adds to the real estate tax bills of residents and businesses by about 25% – dropping it from $72 to roughly $53 per year for most county residents.

If the county were to acknowledge municipal ownership of a stormwater system or agree to maintain or repair privately-owned stormwater outfalls, “The fee would have to be exponentially increased” not only to cover the cost of Isle of Wight once again having and complying with the obligations of an MS4 permit, but also the expense of repairing and maintaining the affected outfalls that have collapsed, Robertson said.

Brock and his attorney, Joe V. Sherman, plan to take the county to court to resolve the matter, and Spencer says she’s considered talking to a lawyer, too. But for now, she’s waiting for a proposal from the county’s director of utilities, Don Jennings, on what it might take to fix the problem — and who’s responsible for doing so.