Help for HOA stormwater woes

Published 6:15 pm Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Isle of Wight supervisors voted March 17 to begin the process of creating a matching grant program that would provide partial funding to homeowners associations looking to repair collapsed stormwater outfalls and drainage ponds.

The pilot program would be modeled off a similar initiative in James City County.

According to George Rawls, chairman of the county’s stormwater advisory committee, the idea came about when representatives of the Carrollton Meadows homeowners association came forward to ask for help in repairing stormwater infrastructure that was installed decades ago when the development was being built.

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“We don’t really have to open up an unlimited amount of money; we can cap it at whatever the board thinks is appropriate,” said Don Jennings, the county’s director of utilities.

Rawls and Jennings envision Carrollton Meadows as being the county’s test pilot for the new program.

“This community is being proactive and they’re trying to fix it, they just recognize they’re way behind the curve saving any money to do it,” Jennings said. “They’re talking probably a six-figure repair.”

The new program would also serve to encourage communities without homeowners associations to form them, Jennings added.

“We don’t want to deal with just individuals,” he said.

The new program comes amid the county’s ongoing legal battle with Carrollton homeowners Otis Brock and Brian and Sue Fernaays, who sued Isle of Wight in federal court last year over a collapsed stormwater pipe in an easement spanning 10 feet into each neighbor’s yard. The neighbors blame the pipe for the runoff that’s been washing away their land since 2018, and for the resulting sinkhole that’s grown into a 12-foot-deep, 20-foot-wide chasm.

The county, however, argues it doesn’t own the easement, and refers to easements that lack clearly defined owners as “orphaned outfalls.”

In 2016, Isle of Wight successfully negotiated with the state’s Department of Environmental Quality to be released from its municipal separate storm sewer system (MS4) permit obligations, arguing it did not own or operate a municipal stormwater system. This allowed the county to cut the stormwater fee it adds to real estate tax bills by about 25% — dropping it from $72 to roughly $53 per year. County officials argue Isle of Wight could again become subject to an MS4 permit and need to raise its stormwater fee were it to acknowledge municipal ownership of a stormwater system or agree to maintain or repair privately-owned stormwater outfalls.

To that end, Board of Supervisors Chairman Rudolph Jefferson asked that County Attorney Bobby Jones review the proposed program before it’s implemented, “So we won’t show ownership of something we can’t afford.”