GARLAND — A Garland resident is seeking a solution from the town on a recurring problem that sees water collecting on his private property, an issue the resident says is a direct result of a town-owned drainage ditch and has now become unbearable. Town officials said maintaining the ditch, which extends across private property, is not their responsibility.
Stephan Green of Smith Avenue said he has brought the matter to the Garland Board of Commissioners several times in the past. He spoke to it briefly at September’s meeting before bringing it back to the town board at its recent October meeting.
“The ditch you’re talking about, I was assuming it ran perpendicular to the property,” said attorney Joel Starling. “This is a ditch that actually cuts across the property between two different roads. It’s your land, it’s your property.”
Green said he has cleaned the ditch in the past, but wants no more of the problem and was seeking a more permanent fix.
“Mosquitoes are bad this year, snakes, rats, and it needs to be covered up one way or the other. It needs to be taken care of,” said Green. “One way or the other, it’s got to be addressed.”
Another resident, Sylvia Carter, also explained Green’s plight.
“The town dug the ditches to drain the property for Goshen Medical Clinic. All that water runs from Goshen Medical,” Carter said. “The town dug the ditches which dump the water on that property. There’s no outlet for it except there.”
Commissioner Ralph Smith said the ditch was there before Goshen was established in town.
“That water comes from Goshen, goes down there, comes across there, runs down to the lake to that creek and runs on to the river,” said Smith. “That ditch has been across that property forever.”
Carter said that is not the case, and can recall when there was nothing in the area of South Bladen and Smith avenues. When Goshen came around, the town dug the ditches deeper, she said. The ditch runs out on Bladen Avenue, and Green said he has been cleaning the area for years and now wants the town to step in.
“I’ve been cleaning that ditch ever since I’ve been there, helping the town out,” said Green. “Otherwise, the town would’ve had to clean it. I’ve been helping the town out by keeping that free.”
He noted a ditch on Smith Avenue that is seldom cleaned out. Carter said, should the ditch near Green’s property get too much water in it, it will create problems.
“If that ditch is filled up that goes across that property, the town is going to have a problem, because all that water is going to pond there,” she said. “It’s going to be a major problem, because there’s no outlet.”
Smith said he did not think the onus fell on the town to clean or maintain the ditch, as it was on Green’s property. “I still don’t think it’s the town’s responsibility to put pipe in it,” said Smith.
“If it isn’t your responsibility, and it isn’t my responsibility, and I fill it up, the water is going to back up,” Green said. “Then you’re going to have to cut down Smith Avenue over to Bladen and go to the original ditch. It’s already creating a problem by mosquitoes that are bad, snakes. This is the worst year I’ve had yet.You can’t have it both ways. To say that it isn’t your ditch and say it’s my ditch and it’s my property and I can’t do that.”
Smith asked about the other “25 or 30 miles” of ditches in the town of Garland. Green said those ditches were not his concern.
“I don’t know about them, I don’t care about them,” Green answered. “I care about my property and the mosquitoes on my property when I go down there to cut the grass. I care about getting the West Nile virus, which is very popular right now. It just needs to be addressed.”
Board member Matthew Register stated that if a person purchases property and there is a ditch there, the only way to get rid of it is by piping it. That responsibility is shouldered by the property owner, he said.
“It’s not the town’s responsibility, it’s the property owner’s responsibility,” Register said. “If I’m not mistaken that’s how the law reads.” Starling said he was not sure about the piping, but the property could not cause water to pool on other properties. The attorney said he confirmed, through tax records and photos, that the ditch was on private property.
“If you fill it up, you’re dealing with the state of North Carolina, I can promise you that,” Register remarked. “That’s a DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) issue.”
“You can’t deliberately fill it up and cause water to pool onto other properties,” Starling added. “You can’t do that.”
Green asked what the town could do to help him.
“Well, what do we do about it?” he asked. “What does the town of Garland do about it.”
Smith asked whether the water stayed in the ditch all the time. Green said it did, especially when it rains, and said he would put dirt in if the town would put in pipe. The town was opening itself to a lawsuit if it did not fix the problem with ditches, Carter noted.
“If it’s something that is on the town of Garland’s property, we’ll fix it,” said Smith. “If somebody has a piece of property and the town has a ditch and they want access to their property as a driveway, that person furnishes the pipe and the town of Garland puts it in. But this is crossing your private property.”
“It’s going to be a lawsuit, because I’m going to fill it up,” said Green. “Either that, or you do something about it.”
“Better get ready,” said Register.
“See, you’re taking it personally,” said Green. “You’re not being positive about it.”
“I’m not taking it personally,” Register replied. “I’m trying to help you. I’m trying to explain to you I know how the state of North Carolina works. You fill in that ditch, you’re going to have to deal with the state of North Carolina.”
Green said he did not want to deal with the state, but come to some sort of solution with the town of Garland. He urged the town to work with him, again floating a proposition by which the town could provide the pipe and he would provide the dirt. Register said it would cost a lot to pipe the ditch, but Green said it would likely cost $700 or $800.
Smith noted cost was beside the point.
“Even if it didn’t cost that much, it’s still not the responsibility of the town of Garland to put the pipe in the ditch,” Smith said.
Green told Register he felt the commissioner was taking the matter personally. Register said that was simply not the case, and said he wished the town had the funds to pipe the ditch. Green stormed out of the meeting room.
“We do thank Mr. Green for expressing his concern and we certainly want to get this resolved in a positive way,” said Mayor Winifred Murphy, who stated the matter was tabled.
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at email@example.com.