What do you do when the city refuses to take responsibility for causing you and your neighbors a big headache? Well, one women in Springfield, Missouri has been doing everything humanly possible to reach a some sort of solution to the periodic flooding which has caused years of mold and mildew in her home.
The flooding, I might add, isn't natural. It's caused by a drainage line which belongs to the city which is too small to do its job.
The local paper has followed the controversy for years and reports nothing has changed.
Now don't think this women hasn't tried to find a way to take care of the problem on her own without bothering the city, but nothing has worked.
So she did her research and began filing reports with the City Attorney like a good American. There were no responses. Nothing was done.
She has spent $130,000 to date on the damages done to her house by the city negligence.
She's been more than patient, I think.
Finally she has filed a law suit.
As the News-Leader aptly put it in the article below:
"Our sewer system is something every taxpayer funds, in the trust that their property and health will be cared for. Allowing raw sewage to escape and even pool beneath people's houses is not protecting their health. Allowing repeated, debilitating decay and damage to a house is not protecting the taxpayer's property."
We all pay taxes and we have the right to expect something in return.
Apparently though, the city of Springfield, Missouri disagrees. And they've in charge!
The following is from the News-Leader in Springfield, Missouri.
Woman, city at odds over water
Wanda Sue Parrot and the city are at a stalemate.
And "stale" couldn't be a more appropriate word. Mold, mildew. Years and years of it. Stench from sewage seeping into the house every time there's a heavy rain and the outdated stormwater system carries it downstream and pops it out manholes and who knows where else. This is a situation I wrote about in 2004 in the area called the Sunshine-Holland neighborhood, generally bounded by Cherokee Street, Washita Street, Robberson Avenue and South Avenue, a "bowl" of a place when it rains hard.
Some houses on Jefferson Avenue periodically suffer water damage.
Just southeast of the Sunshine Street-Campbell Avenue intersection, it is bounded by massive construction and parking lots that came years after the houses were built.
Parrott, 72, has lived with severe flooding since moving here in 1988. Many houses in the neighborhood flood, but her house and the one to her west got it the worst — waters have come up to the middle of their car doors before, and her former neighbor Jim Davis says his car floated off once.
Parrott's floors started buckling from the water that flooded her entire crawlspace, then the tiles in the kitchen and bathroom came off. During several deluges, water rose to her baseboards. Mold and mildew and smell were and are everywhere, and she constantly battles to eradicate it, raking debris after every deluge. When exposed to raw, damp mold, she says she gets either bronchial asthma or a sinus infection. She wonders if three tumors she had to have removed, separately, from the top of her nasal passages were related to mold spores, but doctors couldn't confirm it.
She has hired contractors for various tries at diverting the waters and sealing her foundation, installed both electric and manual sump pumps and done other stopgap measures to the house.
I first wrote about the situation in 2004, and chief stormwater engineer Todd Wagner said then that he wasn't aware of the severity of the problem. City crews then implemented some improvements they thought would help.
Three years later, nothing has changed. There was a major flood on June 29, and six minor ones throughout the year. With the rains that came before our brutal ice storm, there was standing water under Parrott's house, which froze. "I was out of power for 22 days," she says, "and my sump pump was totally ravaged."
For years, Parrott just lived with things as they were. Her elderly mother, for whom she was caring, didn't want to bother with fixing things, Parrott says. But when her mother died, Parrott started asking city workers to come look at the situation and to do something about it. They tried a few measures, but every time a heavy rain came, the floods came again. It became a comfortless cycle: more calls, more city visits and workers scratching heads, apprehension, flooding. More calls, more city visits and workers scratching heads, apprehension, flooding.
She then began talking to longtime residents of the area. Some had lived there with their parents as children and remembered fishing in a creek there. She looked at a Civil War map of the area and found a creek, studied years and years of Springfield sewer and growth history, environmental protection acts such as the Clean Water Act and other documents. She interviewed a retired sanitary sewer worker about his experiences in the neighborhood. Then she discovered that in 1987, a former resident whose house was close to Parrott's had filed a lawsuit against the city seeking compensation for damages to personal and real property caused by sewage in their basement. It was settled out of court.
In 2000, Parrott began filing reports with the city attorney's office about the situation in the neighborhood and in her house in particular and sent letters to the city-county health department. Then her attorney sent the city attorney's office an offer to sell her house to them at what she thought was fair market value. "There was no response," she says. "They acted like I wasn't even alive."
Yet when she wrote asking about the possibility of an underground waterway beneath the area, assistant city attorney Thomas Rykowski wrote back: "Our records indicate that an underground system exists in the Washita/South Campbell area. Our staff is currently searching for drawings or diagrams of this system."
In 2006, Parrott used her files of documents and wrote a book chronicling the situation and sent copies to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and Attorney General Jay Nixon.
Rykowski says the city is at loggerheads with Parrott and won't go further with buying Parrott's house because she wants to retain the right to sue the city for damages in addition to selling her house to the city. "She wanted to reserve the right to sue me for something I'm trying to pay for," Rykowski said.
Parrott itemized the expenses she has incurred fighting the water over the years, and it totals $130,000. That's what she's asking the city for above the selling price of her house. "I've used up all my savings on this," she says. "I'm living on Social Security only now."
"It appears there is no determination that the cause of (any damages) is nothing caused by or in control of the city," Rykowski says.
Yet Wagner now says the flooding in the neighborhood is due to a drainage pipe that is too small to hold the run-off from the neighborhood, where it runs under the streets to a nearby Conoco station. To lay a larger pipe where the smaller one is would run into too much money and into problems working around City Utilities lines and equipment to the area.
Is it not the city's negligence that an outdated and inadequate sewer pipe has been allowed to stay in the area for so long?
Wagner says the Public Works Department's remedy for the situation would be to buy Parrott's house and use the empty lot, and the one to the west, to make a retention basin. The west one has already been sold to the city and razed — that neighbor had only lived there two years and didn't have much of an investment in trying to cope with the floods.
So here the neighborhood sits, held hostage to a legal disagreement. No retention basin, no work on the inadequate draining system in the area. How long are they going to have to live with the flooding while the legal battle goes on?
Our sewer system is something every taxpayer funds, in the trust that their property and health will be cared for. Allowing raw sewage to escape and even pool beneath people's houses is not protecting their health. Allowing repeated, debilitating decay and damage to a house is not protecting the taxpayer's property.
Parrott has an attorney, Rick Muenks, working on a lawsuit, but it has not been filed.
Most people would have given up a long time ago. Parrott says she's just too committed to let the problems continue without bringing them to light and some kind of positive outcome. "I wouldn't sell and leave somebody else with my problems. I may be at this till I die. But I'll die standing upright, even if they have to bury me standing."