City of Green officials find themselves caught in middle of neighborhood homeowners' dispute.
GREEN What began as complaints from residents in the Mystic Pointe neighborhood about water encroaching on their backyards, now has a different group of residents in the same neighborhood up in arms that their lake now is no more in what has become a months-long battling pitting the members of the same homeowners' association against each other, with city of Green officials caught in the middle.
Dillene and Wayne Vanaman, who live on Lakeview Drive, are among the angry homeowners. They moved into their home during the summer of 2015 and built a deck off the back to enjoy the view of the lake that surrounds their portion of the subdivision.
That has all since changed. Now, their backyard is full of muck, dead fish and mosquitoes.
Earlier this year, residents who lived away from the lake on the south pond portion of the Mystic Pointe subdivision voiced concerns to Green City Council that water was getting into their backyards.
Green Engineer Paul Pickett said the city began to look into the complaints and why the south pond area was wetter than usual.
"We wanted to look at the engineered part of the system and see if it was all functioning the way it was designed," Pickett said.
Pickett said the Engineering Department began to look at the flow of the water to determine how it gets from the south pond and out of the subdivision. What officials found was that water leaves the area through a drainage pipe between the south pond and the lake. The pipe, however, was submerged underwater and appeared to be manually altered.
"We ended up looking at the outlet structure and seeing it had been modified to where the normal (lake) level was higher than what the plans indicated," Pickett said.
Pickett believed that the altered pipe could have had an effect on the south pond area being wetter than normal because, with the lake level being higher, it took away stormwater storage.
The city then sent a letter to the Mystic Pointe Homeowners Association, stating it needed to put the drainage pipe back to the original design within 30 days because of the effect the modified pipe was having on properties downstream.
Those living on the lake, however, circulated a petition requesting additional time so more research could be done to determine if the pipe — or some other issue — was causing the downstream flooding.
That extension was not granted.
Opening the drainage pipe
The homeowners association hired Spano Construction to restore the pipe to the original design by putting a hole in the structure, which was believed to have been plugged by someone.
Spano Construction, with city officials on the site, repunched the hole in the pipe, but that didn't lead to the end of the controversy.
The Vanamans say that neither the city nor Spano Construction conducted a survey before punching the hole. Wayne Vanaman also said he asked Spano owner Vito Spano if he knew where the hole was to be punched, and Spano replied, "I will put the hole where (the city representatives) tell me to," according to a document the Vanamans compiled that chronicles their side of the issue.
City officials say they observed the work being done but did not direct Spano Construction where to punch the hole.
"What they did, I believe, is what we said: 'Go back to the original design,'" Pickett said, referring to the plans the city originally approved during the construction of the subdivision.
The Suburbanite reached out to Spano Construction on Wednesday, but all questions were referred to Vito Spano, who was unavailable because of a medical reason.
Lake turns to mud
In the weeks after the hole in the pipe was punched, the Vanamans and others around the lake noticed a continual decrease in its water level.
"Over a period of the next two weeks, the water from our lake drained out," the Vanamans wrote in their document.
Some of the residents on the lake paid for their own survey, which determined the hole in the pipe was punched too low.
The Vanamans say they presented their data of the survey to Green Mayor Gerard Neugebauer, who had the city look into it and determined the hole was punched too low. However, they say, Neugebauer told them that he had "no authority" to issue an order for the homeowners association to repunch the hole.
"He issued an order for them (homeowners association) to lower it, but won't issue an order for them to get it right," the Vanamans said.
Pickett says the hole is at the original location, but the pipe might have been reinstalled too low.
"The reason I believe it is the correct hole is by the original design plans, the bottom of the 6-inch orifice that sets the lake level to match the bottom 12-inch pipe that the lake flows into. If the whole structure is too low, then the right hole is at the wrong elevation. Our measurements say it is 7 inches too low."
The Vanamans, who submitted photos of the lake to The Suburbanite that included several shots of dead aquatic wildlife and what appears to be old tires on a pallet laying in a muddy area, are upset they can no longer entertain guests on their deck.
"We cannot even entertain inside as all the windows face the lake," Wayne Vanaman said.
The couple spent $1,500 to clean their backyard since the lowering of the lake.
Vivianne Duffrin and Ron Haydu, who are lake committee members, are not happy with the way everything was handled.
Haydu, who said he purchased a paddle boat for his wife that no longer can be used, added that the properties around the lake went for a higher price because of the water. Now, he believes, they have lost a lot of value. Haydu said he put the house on the market in hopes of moving to South Carolina. Despite some interest, he has had no luck selling and pulled the house off the market.
Kelley and James Grant moved into their home on the lake in October 2015. Their main reason for buying the property was for the lake, in which they built a $10,000 retaining wall in their backyard. They said the wall seems pointless now.
"If I had known this, I wouldn't have bought it," James Grant said.
Finding a solution
For now, there is no easy fix.
The Mystic Pointe Homeowners Association has hired an engineer to review the issue to determine if there is a way to raise the water level without affecting backyards downstream. City officials say they will work alongside that engineer.
"Can they (find a way to) establish a pool of water that will meet the regulations and not negatively affect the south pond area?" Pickett said.
In the meantime, Neugebauer said he has met with several property owners. He said he understands why they are upset and will continue to work with them as the process to find a solution unfolds.
"They have had pretty good access to the administration and the mayor and our staff," Neugebauer said. "I know they are frustrated."