A collapsed drain pipe has left a 5-feet-deep sinkhole in a Center Grove area man’s yard, and after months of debating with the county, he’s concerned he will have to pay several thousand dollars to repair it.
About a year ago, the top of a metal drain pipe running under Steven Hoover’s yard caved in. The hole is about 16 inches wide and drops about 5 feet to the bottom of the pipe. He’s had the area roped off with caution tape since.
He’s been trying to find out who is responsible for fixing the drain. So far, the only answers he’s getting is that he’ll have to pay for it himself and that cost could hit several thousand dollars, Hoover said. Just filling in the hole isn’t an option because it could block drainage.
County officials said the pipe, which was installed by the developer of the Windsong subdivision in the late 1970s, isn’t a county-owned pipe and is located on private property.
A homeowners association would normally be responsible for drain pipes such as the one in Hoover’s yard, but there hasn’t been one in place since he moved in about 20 years ago and he’s not sure any homeowner’s association ever existed.
With no homeowner’s association, that means Hoover would have to pay, county officials have told him. Hoover doesn’t know what it would cost to dig up and replace at least 200 feet of the 4-foot diameter of pipe on his property, but guessed it could be several thousand dollars.
As the county’s oldest subdivisions begin passing the 40-year-old mark, other homeowners could face the same situation as metal pipes break with no plan or money in place to ensure they get fixed, Johnson County Highway director Luke Mastin said.
Hoover also is concerned the hole could get bigger or new holes could open up if the pipe collapses elsewhere in his yard or under the sidewalk and street.
“I know it’s going to be extremely expensive, I’ve looked underneath at the opening at the creek and it seems to be failing at other spots, so really the whole thing needs to be replaced,” he said.
After the hole opened up in his yard about 75 feet from the road in October, Hoover began contacting the county. He assumed the pipe was there to help drain the streets in the subdivision. But the county highway department said the pipe is not owned by the county, doesn’t drain any nearby roads and is located on private property, Mastin said. According to subdivision building plans, the pipe runs across the road and likely collects water from the backyards of several homes across the street from Hoover’s house, Mastin said.
Hoover has been doing his own research, too. He thought the pipe connected to street drains east of his house. He and his brother-in-law checked this week by banging on inlets with a hammer and listening from the hole. He now agrees the pipe runs north but thinks it connects to drains farther up the road, especially with how large the pipe is, Hoover said.
If the pipe drains the county-owned streets, the county should replace it, Hoover said.
“I’m capable of patching one little hole if that’s what I have to do. That’s not what I believe should be done. I think right now if its connected to the street drains, I think the highway department should fix it,” he said.
But since the pipe is not a county-owned drain and there is no homeowners association, under county rules, every property owner is responsible for pipes running underneath their land. If the pipe had collapsed under Hazy Lane and damaged the road, the county would then be responsible for replacing it, Mastin said.
Commissioner Ron West has been working with Hoover on the problem, but his research hasn’t found any option that would allow the county to legally do the work and use county tax dollars to pay for it, he said.
“It’s unfortunate that there wasn’t something we could do. But the way we’re structured right now there’s no way we could go on private property and make repairs,” he said.
County officials expect this issue could come up again because older subdivisions in the county likely have metal pipes running underneath them, Mastin said. The metal pipes have an expected life span of about 40 to 50 years, meaning several could start collapsing within the next 10 years.
They are discussing ideas that might help homeowners become more aware of what utilities or drains they might have on their property, such as listing that information on a property record. That way a homeowner or home buyer would know what kind of lines are running under their yard.
The county also could require subdivision developers to set up an account to hold money for these type of improvements when the land is first developed, although that wouldn’t solve the problem with subdivisions that are already built and would likely be unpopular with developers because it would be an added fee, West said.
Hoover will continue to investigate where the pipe runs and what it drains and try to get the county to take on the expensive repair project. If that doesn’t happen, he’ll have to figure out how to pay for it himself, persuade neighbors to help or just leave the hole in his yard as is, even though someone could get hurt if they fell in it.
“If it’s not connected to the street system then I guess it would be a matter of the homeowners. I certainly didn’t anticipate it, that’s for sure. I think it’s more like tens of thousands of dollars and I’m not prepared for that and I can’t afford it,” he said.